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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