Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Legion: Secret Origin #6 Review, and Site Notes

I wonder if you would indulge me, in this review, if I mused a bit about the purpose of this blog and the current state of DC's Legion of Super-Heroes franchise.

What Happened That You Have to Know About:

The villain turns out to be the Time Trapper. He controls Mycroft into trying to kill Brande, who is really Chameleon Boy in disguise. Cham defends himself against Mycroft and then against the Trapper himself. Meanwhile, Brainiac 5 uses Phantom Girl's Bgtzln insights into the structure of reality to turn the busted time bubble into a bomb that destroys the wormhole; when the wormhole's destroyed, it also gets rid of the Trapper, because, I guess, that's how he was accessing the 30th century.


I was expecting more out of this story. The whole thing turned out pretty conventionally: Brainy pulls something out of his hat, the villain is the Time Trapper, long live the Legion. Last issue's twist didn't, oh, remain twisty.

Let me tell you what I didn't do tonight. I went to the comic shop and got one single comic. This comic. Looked around for something else to buy this week, didn't find anything, bought this issue, brought it home, read it, started typing this review. That's what I did. What I didn't do was to drive to the comic shop at noon and read the thing in the parking lot once I had bought it. Like I did for Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5.

Why didn't I?

Combination of reasons. There wasn't the big wait before this issue; that's a factor. I can't say there was a huge gap in quality between the two. Some, yes: good as Batista is, Perez is better, and the FC:L3W story had more zazz than this.

Mostly, though, when FC:L3W was coming out, we were wondering what, if anything, DC was going to do with the Legion. Now we're not. (And even if we were, a miniseries going back to their early days wouldn't be part of that wondering.)

How many of you remember when I first started this blog? LSHv5, better known as Waid and Kitson's threeboot Legion, had just started, and it was controversial. There was a school of thought, a big one, that said that whoever those snotty punks were that Waid and Kitson were portraying in that comic, they weren't the real Legion. Also, the real Legion wasn't the one who had been appearing in the pages of the late The Legion comic, or the one who would soon appear in the cartoon. The real Legion hadn't appeared in comics in about 20 years.

I didn't think much of that attitude, still don't, but it did produce a lot of discussion about just what the Legion was all about. And I had a lot to say about it. (Which was convenient, what with the blog and everything.)

In the end, though, it seems like it didn't matter what I had to say about it; the nostalgists carried the day. Their Legion, or at least one that they're willing to claim as theirs, is now the Legion appearing in LSHv7. And there's no debate to be had about this: everyone agrees that they're the Legion, and that Paul Levitz knows his way around them. (Including me! That's obvious, right?)

So now what's to talk about?

I mean, I can review comics twice a month until the cows come home, but what's the point of it? Levitz isn't the most experimental of writers, and his concept of the Legion is a fairly conservative and comfortable one; so he's really not giving me much to sink my teeth into here, and in any case there aren't any issues for me to take positions on.

In case you were wondering, I'm not leading up to saying that I'm closing down the blog or anything like that; that's not my point at all. I'm just saying that this blog was started partially as a way of contributing to a debate that is now over, so if I don't want to get really bored, I'm going to have to find something else for it to do. I may in fact shrink the reviews, at least on a temporary basis. I don't want to just summarize plots and pick over minutiae, you know? I want to try to bring some intelligence to it and say something that you might actually want to think about for five seconds.

And I'm not going to be able to do it if all I have to work with is comics like this one. Again, it's not bad or anything but it didn't seem like the game was worth the candle. Oh well. Back down to two comics a month.

Art: 86 pn/20 pg = 4.3 panels/page. One double-page spread.

Let's tally up the differences between L:SO and ST/LSH, shall we?

L:SO: 104/20 + 96/20 + 93/20 + 86/20 + 81/20 + 86/20 = 546pn/120pg = 4.6 panels/page

ST/LSH: 78/22 + 77/22 + 74/22 + 78/22 + 63/22 + 86/22 = 456pn/132pg = 3.5 panels/page

The difference between the two is 90 panels. 90 panels is basically one entire comic book. Essentially, L:SO was one comic book longer than ST/LSH, despite being twelve pages shorter.

Or we could look at it this way:

L:SO: $2.99 x 6 = $17.94
ST/LSH: $3.99 x 6 = $23.94.

DC's the bigger and more dominant company, so let's pretend that they're the baseline. They're selling us 546 panels for $17.94. That means that one panel of Chris Batista Legion art costs about 3.3 cents. Let's take that as the standard price. Multiply it by the 456 panels in ST/LSH, and you get $14.98. Did you pay $14.98 for your six issues of ST/LSH? You did not; you paid nine bucks more than that. That's the cost of three DC comics. But at least you got the Moys instead of Batista for the extra money.

I know that DC has some advantages that IDW doesn't, and can afford to charge less for their comics. I got no problem with that. But it's no excuse for this level of fluffiness in a comic on the part of IDW.

Membership Notes:

The membership at the end of this issue consists of Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, Triplicate Girl, Phantom Girl, Colossal Boy, Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, and Ultra Boy. There's a set of six headshots of possible new members that includes Brainy and Superman, and four others. Anybody think they know who the four others are? One looks kinda like Shrinking Violet, one could theoretically be Sun Boy, and another maybe Star Boy. I don't have a guess at the girl in the bottom left.

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Anonymous Patrick Wynne said...

Cham wasn't Brande; you can see RJ behind him as he confronts Mycroft. I'm not sure exactly what he was disguised as, though, as the art really gives no clues.

As for the series as a whole... Nice art, boring story. I honestly don't see what the point of Secret Origin was.

11:48 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

It probably serves a purpose in introducing the Legion to people who are completely new to it. This is something I should keep in mind more often; the stuff that happened in this series is completely unremarkable to me, but if all you've read up to now is Batman, there's probably enough new stuff here to keep you interested.

9:58 AM  
Blogger J Burr said...

The art's not horribly clear, but if you look closely, you can see a bug buzzing around the unconscious Brande. The bug is Cham.

12:14 AM  
Blogger Jugularjosh said...

I've been a lurker for a long time, but I've been following your blog for more than a year, and I really enjoy every post. I just wanted to offer a small message of support and let you know that I read and enjoy everything you post here.

2:23 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Thanks and thanks.

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd say the word for the current state of the Legion is"becalmed". We're stuck in the water with no wind to get us moving.
How do we get moving?Hate to say it,but Levitz has to go.I have as much respect for the man as anyone, but his return hasn't found him brimming with ideas.Who do we get as a replacement? Uhh...get back to you on that.
Even if you find the current Legion uninspiring,there must be other LSH-related topics to spark your interest.For example,you've got the rest of the Legion Roster to finish.

2:12 AM  
Anonymous Yestin said...

I share Matthew's frustration with the thoroughly underwhelming Legion titles of the moment. Both seem held back by what I would characterize as a lack of inspiration.

Legion Lost had some really nice characterization. Dawnstar and Tellus sounded a little off to me, not enough to break character and in Dawnstar's case I actually prefer Nicienza's take to how dull I have found her to be. The rest of the Losties really shone in a way that I loved. Wildfire especially came across as likable for the first time ever for me!

The main book has fantastic art, the pencils inks and colors work so well together that I like to re-read each issue without reading the words, just following the visual story. Even though I feel like I don't need yet another page of "Star Man talks about Physical Therapy" (worst adventure ever), the art on this book is just so appealing! Element Lad's hair, Chemical Kid's expressions, Brainiac 5's loose hair and sweat, Dragonfire's costume and face! It is just a shame that nothing particularly interesting is happening in any reasonable time scale...

For the blog, how about posting your thoughts on Legion villains? What made Time Trapper and the Fatal Five classics while Grimbor and Hunter and the dozens of generic evil aliens remain footnotesk? For me, the best Legion foes have been the teams of disparate villains, as opposed to one-man-menaces (like Regulus and Starfinger) or entire alien races.

Maybe you can explain why writers use the dominators so much?

5:18 AM  
Anonymous Dave Mullen said...

The use of the Time Trapper this soon after Legion of 3 Worlds and in such an open ended way was very strange to me. It would have made more sense for it to be Mordru, at least he's a more accessable villain for the Legion and one long due a reappearance and rennaisance... I think the Legion's universe needs a major shift, something to change the status quo a bit and seriously test the Legion, and a new dawn for Mordru could have been it.

Paul Levitz did say some of the things in Secret Origin would feed into the regular book but on summary I have no idea what...

11:52 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Sorry to let the comments pile up like this.

anonymous 1: I'm not really running out of stuff to write about and I definitely have not forgotten about the The Legionnaires articles.

Yestin: I honestly can't think of any more boring way to spend my time than to taxonomize the Legion's villains. I have never been impressed by the Legion's rogues' gallery. (Although I do have one idea for using some of them that a writer more freewheeling than Levitz might try...) But, as I say, I'm far from out of ideas, so it's okay.

Dave: Ah, well, I understand why he used the Time Trapper. For better or for worse, the Trapper has become the Legion's arch-enemy, and so who better to use in their first story.

And I'm not sure how to shake up the Legion without fixing something that's really not broken. Which I suppose is part of the problem.

11:16 AM  
Blogger karl said...

I find the LSH books [all four of them] atm quite a fuss over nothing. I mean, theyr alright in a way, and I love having four books a month, but theres something missing, something not quite right...its like not enough effort has been put into them. Secret Origin was passable in its way but the Time Trapper took too long to turn up and the wormhole seemed a plot device to bring him into the story; instead we get this shoehorned in in the final issue and we had to put up with this Directorate nonsense - I mean, who cares about them?!?
Legion Lost is adventuresome but a storyline which threatens to drown in its own perspicaity; seven issues in and the main villain still hasnt been caught yet and a quite implausible reason why the LSHers wont contact other heroes to help. Definitely treading water and needs to make waves - soon.
The regular LSH book; of all my favourite. If we went by the art and the colour then it would win hands down. The colours are GORGEOUS, the script...needs urgent attention. Plots left hanging, odd snatches of dialogue...dare I say that fabulous as Paul Levitz was back in the day, after thirty years of writing the LSH he maybe [perhaps?] is getting too old for this? No offence intended [truly] but he cant write the book as he did in the 80s. He cant seem to juggle the plots as well as he used to [again, I must reiterate no offence at saying hes too old].
Star Trek/LSH - why? Why? The Moys artwork is too childish and 'toylike', the plot takes an age to get has got better as its gone along but again like Origin we wait too long for the main villain to make an appearance. As a piece of fluff its okay enough but it serves little purpose in regular LSH continuity, rather like those X-Men/Titans team-ups they used to do in the 80s. Its rather pointless, really.
And yet, Ill still buy them because I adore the LSH, and your blog does give a fairly unbiased account of each issues rundown and picks up on all those small things that delight and niggle in equal measure.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...


You know, though, this isn't a lot different from the kind of stuff Levitz was doing in the '80s. Only difference is, we're older and the rest of the comic book world has caught up to Levitz to some extent.

5:17 PM  
Blogger Murray said...

I just thought I'd chime in and say I'm pretty pleased with what Levitz is doing. His books read (to me, of course) exactly as they did back in the day. And I wish like anything that a few more of the modern writers were able to write in his style. There's always something going on in his issues... usually a couple of somethings. It totally works for me.

8:08 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Levitz's current stuff is decent. I would prefer something better.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Always considered the Legion's arch-foes to be the Fatal 5.The Time Trapper is more the Legion's go-to guy for continuity fixes.Any rebooting needs done,there he is.

Someone needs to explain the Time Trapper.If he is Entropy Personified,why does he bother with transient mortals like the Legion?If he's a mortal himself,that raises questions too--like,why does he wear those ragged robes?

5:09 PM  
Blogger Martin Gray said...

I reckon Levitz still has it in terms of handling dozens of characters and juggling plotlines. What he hasn't given us of late are compelling villains and storylines that feel like they have consequence. I'd like to see the excellent Francis Portela given a chance to co-plot, see what an extra vision can bring to the book.

And didn't I hear Keith Giffen is coming back to the Legion for another story?

Anyway, don't feel like you have to review every issue, Matthew - post what you want, when you want.

6:30 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Anonymous: I think the Trapper got all the explanation he needs in Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. He's a semi-sentient alternate timeline that takes different natures and origins, depending on what's going on. One of Geoff Johns's better contributions, I thought.

And he's much more of a fundamental adversary than the Fatal Five are:

- the Five oppose the Legion, but don't really care if they exist or not; the Trapper wants the Legion cut out of the history books
- time travel is an important part of Legion comics, and the Trapper threatens that

Martin: Well, I am by nature kind of a completist...

I agree that Levitz still has all his skills. What I'm not sure he has is anything else to say that a) I haven't read before and b) is interesting enough to be compelling.

9:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Time Trapper is here because superhero teams require a Time-Traveling Terrorist,someone who can go to any point in time yet keeps butting heads with the same superhero team.Teams like the LSH often have similar luck in the types of opponents they face--
*Opposite Teams (LSV)
*Mad Magicians(Mordru)
*Evil Robots (Computo)
*All-in-One Foes (Composite Man)
So,Time Trapper exists because of genre requirements.Why the Trapper dresses in rags is a question that may never be answered.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Sure, sure, but that doesn't address the question of whether the Trapper or the Five is the Legion's "arch-enemy". For things like that, you have to look at the details that the one-size-fits-all theories don't address.

12:03 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ranking of "arch-villains" is really a popularity contest.Batman has many great villains,but for whatever reason,the Joker is seen as the #1 Batfoe.Perhaps you should run a poll to determine who's the Legion's #1 baddie(s).

The cover doesn't refer to anything that happened within the comic.Does it refer to the last issue,or is it just a generic fight scene?

11:16 AM  
Blogger karl said...

The last two covers of Secret Origin looked at first glance to me like they were interlinked, to form one image. As for generic fight scene, well the vast majority of nu-DC's comics seem to be doing that.

4:10 PM  
Blogger Arion said...

I haven't felt particularly interested in the current Legion titles.

Which might explain why I'm rereading back issues and talking about them on my blog.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Oh, I've been paying attention...

10:59 PM  
Blogger Jim Drew said...

I think an underlying purpose for the story was to un-goofy some of the early Legion stuff, which is pretty much the same thing Levitz did with the Adventure stories wove around Zaryan and Lightning Lad's death.

If you look back at the early Time Trapper stories, you have unclear motivation for him, the use of puppet characters, and his presence as a looming but often unacting threat. This story did all that, but with modern storytelling sensibilities, establishing that those components of the Trapper were there all along but not quite as weird/goofy as we see them now in the original stories. This also gave better motivation for Brande and the early Legion, maybe.

You'll note that pieces of the motiviation have been done for the Trapper over the past couple decades, but not the early continuity stuff. Mordru has also been toned up, away from goofy magician and into immortal threat who once ruled the galaxy (reboot), tied to Gemworld, tied to the JSA, and currently appears in Demon Knights. (Between that with it's proto-Authority ties and the JSA connections, we can probably write Mordru off from ever returning to being Legion focused. Damned Trapper and his meddling!)

In the end, I think that goal was a good thing. I think Levitz' implementation of it was flawed. If we had had clear evidence of "something going on" (beyond the assassination attempts) midway through #2 instead of at the end of #5, things would have felt stronger (but we'd have had less characterization of the early Legionnaires as a trade-off).

As for who the headshot characters were, you can bet that they are the next six significant members (or failures): Violet was definitely the girl.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

You could be right. Not sure if it was worth doing in that case, though, because how many new readers are going to take the Silver Age stories as representative of the current Legion? And the old readers don't care.

5:40 PM  
Anonymous Cayo Hern said...

I think your blog inspires more useful discussion about the Legion than any other page on the Internet. I hope that you don't get too bored to keep up the tradition. Get-a-Life Boy's blog seems to have ended back in January, for instance. When I don't quite get the point about certain panels or elements of a story, I always come here to be enlightened. Thanks!

12:32 AM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

No: thanks to you; I really appreciate that.

8:40 AM  
Blogger Jim Drew said...

No disagreement on the "Was it worth doing?" piece. It seems kind of random at the moment.

Of course, reintroducing the roots of a time travel villain and secret missions of a time-lost group of Legionnaires could suddenly dovetail six months from now. I doubt it, but long range planning can occur. (And I always prefer to pretend that favorite writers are thinking that far ahead. Even if they aren't. Levitz has before, Peter David does, Brian Bendis apparently does.)

4:22 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Could be; Levitz and Geoff Johns have it in common that they both set things up a long time in advance. I think Levitz is still toying with what to do with Danielle Foccart.

4:36 PM  
Blogger Jim Drew said...

Mmmm? Has there been any mention of her in the retroboot yet? (I haven't read the Invisible Kid, which would be a logical place to mention her.) If not, she's kind of in the same zone as the Wanderers and the Grimbor: is Levitz mulling her over or just letting her sit?

I do note that Morrison referenced both C.O.M.P.U.T.O. and Yod-Colu in Action Comics recently. She might be off the table partway if Morrison is dealing with Computo at all.

Looping back to Secret Origin, though, one observation I had was that this also set up the death of Ferro Lad -- "Legionnaire goes solo to blow up a bomb in the heart of something, and may not come out alive". This strongly sets that up as a recurring Legion trope (Tinya, Imra, Andrew, Condo, etc.) and maybe helps explain why the Legion reacted as it did (or did not) to later instances.

1:27 PM  
Blogger Matthew E said...

Yeah, she was mentioned briefly in LSHv7 #8, and in a way that leaves it open whether Brainy has cured her yet. We should probably assume he has, since it happened in TotLoSH, which was pre-Crisis. But then that spark when she walked through that portal is still hanging in the air...

2:41 PM  

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