Saturday, March 23, 2013

LSH 2010 Reread, part one

(Covering Legion of Super-Heroes vol. 6 # 1-4 and Adventure Comics # 515-517, 2010)

Since we last saw our heroes in "The Magic Wars":

*It has been a couple of eventful years. At some point after Jeckie's time as team leader, there was another massive wave of time distortion, and the whole bit with Superboy dying is erased from history.
*A human-supremacist called Kirt Niedrigh, with powers similar to Lallor's Duplicate Boy except he needs a superpowered being close by to absorb and reproduce, has led a failed coup and attempt to get all aliens off Earth. In the wake of the disaster, the Time Institute has relocated to Saturn's moon, Titan. Earthgov was ready to kick the LSH offworld as well.
*The team met up with parallel universe versions of themselves. Apparently, the characters of Gates and XS from the 1994-2004 incarnation of the Legion decided that they liked this universe better than theirs, and stuck around here.
*Tyroc has returned to the team after several years away and a haircut. Quislet either also found a new ship and came back, or the late-in-the-series destruction of his little ship was retconned away.
*Polar Boy lost a hand.
*Mon-El recovered from his injuries, but he and Shady have ended their relationship.
*Blok and Mysa are on an extended leave of absence together, I think. Mysa is no longer practicing white magic, and is now the Black Witch.
*Everybody's costumes have been redesigned. For the ladies, 1970s boob windows are back in a big way and Shady's wearing her underwear in public again. Jeckie has gone from one of the best costumes in all of comics to what might well be the worst. Artist Yildiray Cinar really, really likes drawing boobies. Dawnstar's are unbelievable.

Major developments in the present:

*Earthgov has demanded the LSH accept Kirt as a member, to make a public example that Earthers can work smoothly with offworlders, and make peace stick. Brainy offers him a flight ring that also acts as a limiter, or leash.
*The Time Institute has developed a remote viewer, immediately tunes it in to the beginning of history, which, according to DC Universe lore, nobody's allowed to witness. (Levitz already covered this weird rule in the early days of his 1980s run.) This sparks a series of disasters on Titan, and wakes up the dead planet Oa to get another Green Lantern ring out there to deal with it. Oa generates a being called Dyogene to find a new Lantern. He chooses Kirt.
*Titan is destroyed in a huge explosion after most of the population is evacuated. Saturn Queen returns home to find the Legionnaires moving debris from the space lanes and seeing evacuation liners away. She takes over Ultra Boy's mind for no better reason than just to cause trouble, and is apprehended by a small group of heroes.
*Niedrigh only lasts a single mission as a Green Lantern before deciding that he doesn't wish to be a slave to a band of metal and long-dead aliens, especially when they're commanding him to fly across space to rescue mosquitos from a change in their atmosphere.
*Imra and Garth, joined by Ayla, fly to the planet Avalon after their children are abducted. They find that the medieval planet has elected to worship Darkseid, and rescue the kids from a new Servant of Darkness, who collapses into dust.

Well, these are... okay.

So, it's been twenty years and change since Paul Levitz wrote the Legion, and, honestly, you can tell that he's been away from comic book scripting. Over the years, he had been working in a management position for the company, and also providing extremely entertaining interview copy, and, occasionally, even kindly writing letters to aggravated customers of DC Comics who found the binding of some of their collected editions falling apart. Ahem. (Thanks, Paul.) On the one hand, he kept Warner Brothers from cynically exploiting Alan Moore's Watchmen for more than two decades, on the other, he joined the sixty-million other residents of Alan Moore's enemies' list when he vetoed a genuine period advertisement in the backmatter of Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He created the Huntress back when there was a point to that character, and he wrote a hundred-odd really good issues of a really good comic. On the average, he's definitely one of the good guys.

That doesn't mean that he gets a free pass.

(Plus, now that he isn't protecting Watchmen any longer, we get the stupidity in 2011 that'll put the final nail in me buying anything new from that company.)

Look, a lot of this is not his fault. In between the end of "The Magic Wars" and "The Scream Heard 'Cross the Universe," an bonus-length 39-page opener, DC Comics was the home of more petty, stupid, greedy, selfish office politics than Initech on a good day. Only the prize wasn't TPS Reports, it was an ongoing continuity of beloved fictional characters being used in tugs-of-war between demented dorks insistent on using characters their way. Some of this turned out to be surprisingly good - James Robinson's Starman, Grant Morrison's JLA, the '94 LSH - but most of it was petty and silly.

Now, what arguably should have happened, once some sensible heads prevailed, was that somebody should have started up the story about one week after "The Magic Wars" and gone from that point. But the restart actually rolls back to the Time Trapper's creation of a pocket universe and its Superboy, and wipes that out, and rolls forward to incorporate characters from the 1994-2004 relaunch. These are explained as heroes from a parallel universe who, for reasons that only make sense to that story's writer (2008), decided that they liked this 31st Century better than the one they were in, and hopped over here. This is probably because that story's writer wanted to have a few more characters in the "real" Legion, or something, and Gates and XS were not invented until after the 1994 relaunch. (XS, however, does not appear in these, or the next several issues either. I only know from Wikipedia that she's supposed to be around somewhere.)

So we're, perhaps, a couple of years after "The Magic Wars" and Levitz is getting used to the particular and eccentric language of comic books again. It's clunky. You won't believe the three scientists from the Time Institute. Their names are, I believe, Dr. Exposition, Professor Exposition, and Research Assistant Exposition. And there's worse. Levitz has frequently shown trouble juggling parallel plots that seem to take place over different periods of time; read the collected edition of The Huntress and tell me how many days of work Helena Wayne misses over the course of that continuous run of eight-page episodes, or, better yet, read the 1986 LSH story "The Universo Project" and tell me how many weeks Wildfire and Tellus's group was underwater while Brainy and Saturn Girl's group was on that prison planet.

I mention this because the destruction of Titan, and its aftermath, makes no sense whatever. This is apparently an instantaneous, galaxy-wide refugee crisis, but so many things are happening at once that the ramifications and the resettling on Earth and on Naltor, which feel, from the resentment and response of Earth's xenophobic minority, to be taking place over the course of weeks, versus the day or so that Kirt Niedrich spends as Green Lantern, versus the short period of time that Garth and Imra are chasing their stolen children. It all feels very rushed and very much like a first draft pressed into quick service. And what the heck does Saturn Queen want?

Honestly, these are okay, but far too much is happening, most of it of little consequence, without any time to slow down and focus on anybody's characters or their relationships. In fact, the principal character in this story seems to be the one that nobody, anywhere, likes: Kirt. I guess I see the motive: our heroes, whether you're a returning reader or a brand new one, have a lot of history and background, and, thanks to all those office politics and stops and restarts and rewriting, we're never going to get to know all of it. So Kirt, unlikeable and obnoxious, becomes the audience identification character.

But let's talk about the artwork. It is competent. It's arguably better than Greg LaRocque's was when he started, and he improved radically and quickly into one of LSH's very best. But there's no flair and no oomph. Cinar - assisted by Francis Portela on subsequent issues in a really close match for his style - does have a few solid tricks, like using hair and facial structure in such a good way that, even without the costumes, it is easy to tell the characters apart. A recent DC Comics innovation is the use of subtitling captions whenever each new character shows up. It works really well, and only the deliberately obtuse would have trouble following the action. But still, I don't like the reliance on splash pages instead of dense and meticulously laid-out action scenes. It looks for all the world like much more could be happening in each issue, but only the minimum is being depicted. Very few pages use a denser grid of six or more panels, and the result, after the comparatively expansive, extra-sized opening issue, is that too much flies by too quickly. The read isn't very satisfying. It leaves me intrigued but hungry.

As for the costumes, I am not sure whether Cinar is to blame for all the new designs, or whether one of the previous "wilderness years" artists like Gary Frank or George Perez inflicted them on us, but the women's costumes are a horrifying, retrograde step back. Admittedly, Dawnstar was almost always about ready to flop out of her top, and her new Power Girl boob window is not that much of a change, but now that just about every lady in the Legion is back to looking like the Frederick's catalogs in the 1970s, you've got to wonder when all the fellows are going to start wearing Magic Mike gear as well. Good grief.

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