Monday, June 28, 2010

Legion of Super-Heroes # 1-2

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Legion of Super-Heroes # 1-2 (DC, 2010)

I'm not sure which famous quote to use to express how I feel about buying a new Legion of Super-Heroes comic again after so long. Something about just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in? Or how I just can't quit you? I know, it's an exhausted Daffy Duck, beaten down from constant delays and aggravations, saying "Okay, let's get this picture started!"

This isn't a situation that I can explain very briefly, but in the 1980s, as written by Paul Levitz, DC's Legion comic was a firm favorite, and I think it's still easily among the best American books of that decade. Levitz left in 1989 for a desk job at DC, and dozens of other writers have tinkered and tampered with the continuity of the SF adventure with no lasting appeal. Levitz, at last, has returned to the title, and I've very gladly placed a regular order for it again.

Levitz is apparently now working in a melange of previous Legion continuities, with characters from at least two prior iterations of the title. Even though these are issues #1-2, they follow up a couple of stories written by Geoff Johns in other books that establish this new status quo, leaving it to Levitz to iron out the kinks and ease readers into the new storyline. As with the best Legion stories, there's a hell of a lot going on with a hell of a lot of characters. There are three big plots at work here, but Levitz is an old master at managing stories this complex for new readers and making it seem fresh and welcoming.

Honestly, the result was not completely satisfying, but I was still pleased by the first issue and occasionally thrilled by the second. Perhaps after reading too many modern American comics, I'd forgotten how nice it feels to read a newly published story that's not afraid to use forgotten standbys like thought balloons (of a sort) and captions and proper chunks of dialogue where characters actually refer to each other by name so that the audience knows who the heck is who. I just finished reading a clutch of Brian Bendis comics for Marvel, about which more soon, and the new LSH might feel a little out of touch with modern convention, but also welcoming and genuinely fresh. Too many contemporary comics try to act like film storyboards and are afraid to use the medium's conventions to tell their tales, but Levitz does it right, and does it very well.

At any rate, while the first issue did feel just a little clunky, the second really ramped things up. There's rampant, alien-hating xenophobia on 31st-Century Earth, and the arrival of thousands of refugees from the destroyed moon of Titan has made matters worse, as has Earthgov's insistence that an alien-hating former enemy of the Legion's be given a place among their ranks if they want to continue operating on the planet. Meanwhile, the Titan-born villain Saturn Queen has taken over Ultra Boy's mind and used him as a weapon against the other Legionnaires. It's an expertly-managed blend of crazy politics and high-concept SF with the focus on team relationships and dynamics that fans love. As ever, Jo is totally Tinya's sub, although I was surprised that in this iteration, Mon-El and Shady have recently split. Don't break our hearts too much, Levitz!

Artist Yildiray Cinar's work is new to me, and it's not bad at all, but I can't swear that I was really inspired by it. It's certainly competent - at no point was I confused by the storytelling or baffled as to who any of the supporting characters were, which seems to have been a huge problem for DC lately - and it's at least as good as Steve Lightle's work in the mid-80s. I do hope Cinar can turn up the weirdness dial a little further in upcoming issues. Despite the property's quaint and charming origins and zero-thought 1950s visual design, the Legion's world is most appealing to me when it's light-years away from traditional superheroics. I'd like to see Gates, for instance, look more like a weird, freaky insect and less like a safe funny animal, for starters. In the meantime, is there any chance DC can book Amanda Conner for fill-ins to sub for Cinar once a year or so?

I think that Legion fans have been badly treated by the company for a really long time now, with storylines abandoned and reset to suit the whims of new creators, and a management that just seems out of touch and clueless. In a world of year-long commitments and creators who either jump ship or get pushed far too early and often, it might be foolhardy to be placing any trust in the new LSH at all. We've been burned so frequently that many fans, myself included, just stopped reading. In a perfect world, a Levitz-helmed LSH would run for years and years, and if an optimistic, perfect world isn't the dream behind the property, I don't know what is. Fingers firmly crossed, I can't wholeheartedly recommend this as an ongoing concern, knowing how we've been shafted in the past, but I'll keep reading with a nice smile and let you know how it's going.

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