Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Legion of Super-Heroes #1 Review

Back to the old salt mine.

What Happened That You Have to Know About:

Some nasties called the Horraz are, for some reason, delivering Aquaman's legendary trident to Mordru, who is in this reality a "demon gangster" on Planet Gotham. Ultra Boy and some other Legionnaires intercept it. Meanwhile, Superboy officially joins the Legion just in time for the Horraz to attack in large numbers, presumably to get the trident back. The president of the United Planets is updated on all of this and is not pleased. Oh, and Rose shows up, but nobody's paying any attention to her.


Okay, so the first thing about this is, I would not call this a complete comic-book story. It's a chapter one, is what it is. I prefer complete stories in my comics. Now, I understand this is a bar that very few current comics can clear. But I think it's worth mentioning every now and then.

Second thing. I like the way we're starting small. A few Legionnaires fighting some random dudes over an artifact. That's a very manageable scale for a story, and I applaud this approach. (Back in the days of the reboot Legion, this was my complaint about DnA's run on the comic: freaking world was almost getting destroyed every issue.) It's not no-stakes, of course; the trident could maybe restore the oceans to whatever it is that's left of the Earth, and Mordru and the Horraz could be major players. But that's fine. Start small, build up from there.

Let's get into what I think is the most important point, which is just what Brian Michael Bendis's approach to the comic seems like it's going to be. I'll start with an observation I've made before.

The original Legion, in the early '60s, did not have a lot of characterization. The Legionnaires were close to interchangeable as far as their personalities were concerned. Eventually, writers like Jim Shooter and Cary Bates started bringing whatcha might call a more Marvelistic style of characterization to the team, which improved things somewhat, and then Paul Levitz completed the process by settling the Legionnaires into vital, understandable personalities that, decades later, still seem to us like who the characters really are. Then we had the reboot Legion, which built on that by giving the Legionnaires somewhat broader personalities, often ones that may have been less naturalistic but better suited to superheroic characters. After that, Mark Waid's threeboot Legion had bizarre alien personalities that were integrated into the natures of their superpowers and home planets, in ways both obvious and subtle.

(I know, I'm leaving stuff out. I'm just talking about the undisputedly distinct versions of the Legion.)

Well, there's no way to continue that pattern. You can't find a way to develop the Legionnaires' personalities that's more sophisticated than what Waid did in the threeboot. And it doesn't look like Bendis is trying to do that. Bendis has the reputation that his characters do a lot of Sorkinesque back-and-forth banter, and all sound kind of like each other, and that's certainly true here.

I mean, it's not like the Legionnaires are all identical robots; we get hints of what Ultra Boy and Karate Kid and Saturn Girl are like. I'd like a little more than that, but, fine, it's a first issue, there's a lot of ground to cover.

So, yeah, Bendis isn't trying to out-characterize previous Legion writers. I'm going to say something that a lot of people will disagree with, and that's this: it's okay to deemphasize character. There's a lot of different stuff going on in fiction, and you don't have to do it all. You can pick the parts you think are important for the kind of story you want to tell. And plenty of writers don't have character as their top priority, including some of my favourites. I'm thinking of P.G. Wodehouse, who wrote a lot of funny stuff with intricate plots, in which some of his characters were broadly memorable and some were kind of just anybody. Perfectly acceptable approach.

If Bendis isn't emphasizing character, what is he emphasizing? Just from this one issue, I'd have to say that he's emphasizing setting. There's all kinds of crazy stuff in this Legion's universe. Apparently teleportation's easy. It's not clear at all just what Metropolis is, or what it's in. And what's the deal with Gotham? The United Planets homeworld... is that a planet, or a... building...? Previous Legion writers have tended to let the science-fictional details of the universe accrete gradually and in kind of an ad-hoc way. But I get the impression that this is where a lot of Bendis's and Sook's creativity has been invested.

And if that's the recipe for this series, then, yeah, okay. Dozens of chatty superpowered teens exploring a bonkers galaxy? I can work with that.

(It also seems to be part of the recipe that we get elements of the contemporary DCU added strongly to the mix. I don't like that; I prefer as few current-day elements as possible in my Legion comics. But that's just my personal preference and I don't think it ruins the comic.)

I'm going to be interested in seeing how Bendis handles the large cast. If every Legionnaire is going to appear in every issue, it's just not going to work. Few at a time, few at a time. Look at the fight against Mordru in this issue: what was Star Boy there for? He didn't *do* anything; Ultra Boy had to double back and help out.

One last thing about this issue... it wasn't just a guest appearance where the Legionnaires just had to show up and pose. It wasn't a generic emergency like a galactic rift that had to be sealed. It wasn't a high-concept crossover. It was just a regular Legion comic, where something shady is going on and the golden lads and lasses must get their hands dusty investigating it. It's been so long since there's been one of those, and I have missed it like stink.

Bottom line: this was an okay comic book with good ingredients. It's a good introduction and an enjoyable read. I continue to be cautiously optimistic about this title and am looking forward to #2. While I disagree with some of what Bendis wants to do here, I do like the fact that he seems to have some kind of strong vision that he's chasing. It can make up for a lot.


- hey, Phantom Girl has a little halo over her head. Didn't notice that before. What's it do?
- I actually want to see the PowerPoint slides the Legionnaires prepared for Superboy
- the Horraz lettering on pages 1-3! That's some Bob Lappan action right there. Nice job by Dave Sharpe
- remember I said the skeletal Legionnaire in the green containment suit was Chemical King? Pipe page 23; more likely Chemical Queen
- I hope the Horraz are more interesting than just being, you know, orcs or whatever
- this may be a plot point: on page 1, what caused the Horraz ship to go out of control?
- I didn't really get some of Mordru's dialogue. Face of madness? You will not shame me? Huh?


81 panels/24 pages = 3.4 panels/page. 3 double-paged spreads. But note that there are six separate pairs of facing pages where the art spills from one over to the next. That's a lot. What other comics have that? That Nextwave issue?

Panel count is a little light. I had high hopes at the start of the story but Ryan Sook got pretty splashpagey toward the end. I hope it was just first-issue syndrome; I don't want puffy Legion comics. Had enough of that with Johns and Frank.

But the actual art looks good. Sook shows off a couple of times, like with the first Saturn Girl page. (Or on the cover where he does size/perspective tricks with Shrinking Violet and Superboy's arm.) He doesn't stint on the backgrounds. Distinguishes faces well. Really it's a nice-looking comic book. I hope he can keep this pace up.

Membership Notes:

I ain't puttin' it all here; I'll update the Legion Roster/The Legionnaires page, like, this weekend or something. It's due for a renovation anyway.

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Announcement: Time Beacons

I hope to have a review of Legion of Super-Heroes v8 #1 up later this evening, but in the meantime I'd like to draw your attention to something else.

The intrepid correspondents at Time Travel Nexus have recruited me to write Time Beacons, a monthly series of articles on the subject of the Legion of Super-Heroes and time travel. The first one is up now, here, and I'll keep writing them until, uh, I guess until I'm finished doing that. Unsurprisingly, the first article is about Adventure #247, which you may have heard of.

Visit Time Travel Nexus for all your fictional-time-travel-related needs.