Posted by: erikmona | October 12, 2011

NEW 52 REVIEW 35: Legion of Super-Heroes #1

Legion of Super-Heroes #1
Writer: Paul Levitz
Artist: Francis Portela

Fans love the Legion of Super-Heroes because of its complexity. It is the most soap-operaesque of DC’s properties, with multiple generations of characters, continuity built from more than 50 years of publishing, and lots and lots of characters. I suspect because past “reboot” events like Crisis on Infinite Earths and Zero Hour basically wrecked the Legion and forced reboots to account for editorial changes, the Legion has been spared by the same hand that let the Batman and Green Lantern titles keep their precious, precious continuity. So what we have with Legion of Super-Heroes #1 is more of a fresh start than a pure reboot.

The Green Lantern titles have, to my great surprise, managed to avoid getting bogged down in story threads that the audience DC is hoping to attract with the New 52 weren’t around to read, and don’t understand. The Batman titles have weathered it well because, well, Batman never really changes much. Legion Lost, this book’s companion volume from Week Two, manages to sidestep the issue by shunting the team into a different time, focusing on immediate danger (albeit doing so mostly by standing around and talking).

Legion of Super-Heroes takes the least successful approach so far, stepping directly into multiple references to past storylines. The result is a comic that feels like “just another issue” of a previous series and offers few footholds for new readers. The Legion is a great property with lots of cool characters and great potential. But this is a shoddy way to introduce it.

The story opens strong with Chameleon Boy leading a field mission with new recruits Dragonwing and Chemical Kid, as well as veterans Phantom Girl and Ultra-Boy (perhaps my personal favorite Legionnaire). They’re on a watch planet along the border of space controlled by the alien Dominators, with whom the Federation has had a tenuous peace for the last five years. Contact recently shut down, and the team has come to investigate if there is a serious problem or if it is simply a communications malfunction.

Levitz does a nice job showing the difference in experience between the veterans and the rookies. Simple text boxes explain each Legionnaire’s code name, real name, home world, and powers, a device that will come in handy as the cast balloons out of control in the next few pages.

Then we get a one-page scene on the ship that dispatched the Legionnairres, where Gim Allon (AKA Colossal Boy) tells his superior in the fleet that he is glad he is not on the field mission, and that his place is in the military. At least, I think this scene is supposed to take place on the ship that dispatched the Legion’s landing pods on Page 1. It’s definitely hovering above the same purple planet. And it makes sense that their conversation would begin “Annoyed at not going with them, Allon?” if “them” equals “your Legion buddies we just shot out the torpedo bays,” but there’s one problem. The ship looks absoltuely nothing like the ship on Page 1. Totally different hull, totally different fins, the works. Either artist Francis Portella totally blew his reading of the script or I am not following what’s going on. Either way kind of sucks.

Then we’re back down to the planet. Chameleon Boy turns into a bug and flies into the military base (where everything seems normal). He notices reference to orders from “Renegade,” but a guard tries to swat him.

Then we cut to Legion HQ, where things start to get really confusing. We see Daxamite Superman clone Mon-El moving about giant gold statues of various dead Legionnaires (a long-running element of the series). With statues added for the characters in Legion Lost, whom these Legionnaires believe are dead, the memorial hall is getting crowded.

Braniac 5 stops by, and asks Mon-El “Perhaps Niedrigh should be less prominently displayed?” Mon-El says “He was a true Legionnaire at the end, Brainy.”

Erik says “Who the hell is Niedrigh? Thanks for providing no context whatsoever, Comic. Geez!”

Then we get a mostly nice-looking two-page spread splash page of Mon-El and Brainiac 5 receiving reports from three 4 or 5-person field teams. These include teams led by Cosmic Boy, Element Lad, and Dream Girl, any one of which would make an interesting cast for a Legion of Super-Heroes comic. All in all, Levitz uses captions to introduce FIFTEEN Legionnaires, including a few who barely even speak. Add in six Legionnaires who do not get intro boxes, and we’re talking about a comic with a cast of 21 protagonists. That’s pretty absurd, and is not necessary to write a good Legion comic. Even if Levitz needed to have a team this large, it would have been a far better introduction to focus simply on the field team in the first scene, with perhaps a glimpse at HQ and all the complexity of the larger team, but with the focus on only a handful of characters. I mean, what’s the point of including an intro box for Comet Queen, for example, who appears in one panel and says “All aglow, glistening, leader, sir!”

The big splash page includes a couple of references to old continuity with references to “Saturn Queen’s crowd” and the “Flashpoint Effect,” two elements from the previous crossover event that was supposed to wrap up the old continuity.

Then we get a scene with Mon-El looking at his hand and saying “I’m starting to miss the Lantern ring… being in two paces at once was confusing, but feels like it might be useful now, trying to carry on after so much.” This is a refence, I think, to either Brightest Day or Blackest Night, another huge mega-crossover emblematic of the worst excesses of extinction-era DCU, in which pretty much every superhero got to be some kind of colored lantern. That’s references to three out-of-continuity crossover events in three pages, and the issue is not even done serving up confusing shit with no reference points for new readers.

After a short interlude advancing the field team story, we’re back at Legion HQ with a scene featuring the most also-ran of the various teams: Dream Girl, Star Boy, Harmonia, and new recruit Glorith, who seems like a huge, mopey loser. She keeps carping on about the death of some character named Oaa that we’ve never met (some previous crossover, I presume). Everyone is broken up about this character’s death, but we don’t get a flashback or even an anecdote to help us understand who this person was or why we should care. Glorith does mope about it a lot, though. Loser.

Also, what’s up with DC editorial letting through a character whose name is one “a” away from the Green Lantern homeworld? Dumb.

Then we’re back to the field team, who discover that the soldiers are transmitting information, presumably to the Dominators. The Legion attacks, and sends Ultra-Boy to break the modification to the transmitting tower. This he does, only to be punched and thrown back dozens of feet by a human-looking guy in a blue outfit and a crewcut. Ultra-Boy (using super-strength) throws a boulder at the guy who punched him. The guy punches through it with a “THOOM” and Chameleon Boy says “A DAXAMITE?!”

Oof. While Levitz’s script did somewhat clumsily say that Mon-El, as a Daxamite, was the most powerful member of the Legion earlier in the comic, it might be asking a lot for new readers to have picked up on that for the last panel to have the sort of resonance that Levitz wants it to. Most readers probably aren’t going to understand the enormity of what’s going on, that the Legion is basically facing a Superman-level threat. Indeed, all we’ve really seen Mon-El do is move a statue, not exactly that impressive.

And really, how does Chameleon Boy know the guy is a Daxamite? He doesn’t look like Mon-El. We don’t see him fly. He doesn’t use heat-vision, or anything. He’s got a weird crew-cut that looks like neither Mon-El or Superman. So why does Chameleon Boy jump to that conclusion? Does he say that every time he faces a foe that can break a big rock? “A DAXAMITE!” he cries. “No, Chameleon Boy,” his teammates sigh, “that’s just water erosion.”

I do like the Legion. I want the main Legion comic to be good. This issue didn’t suck as an average middle-run Legion comic, so all is not lost. But it was a really bad introduction to the Legion, and a really bad first issue by almost any measure.

Status: We’ll See.


Responses

  1. Monel mentioning the ring was a reference to the previous work. Monel had a
    green lantern ring for awhile. I haven’t read 16 yet so I don’t know why he gave it up.


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