Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #32 Review

What Happened That You Have To Know About:

This issue focuses on Star Boy, Sun Boy and Mekt Ranzz, searching Winath for Cosmic Boy and getting into unrelated trouble as they do it. First, they run into Tenzil Kem, the U.P. prosecutor who's trying to nail Cosmic Boy for war crimes. He showed up on Winath because of a large electromagnetic disturbance similar to the kind Cosmic Boy's powers produce. Star Boy calls Brainy for help and advice, but he's no help; we do, however, find from that scene that Atom Girl's team has been ambushed and Supergirl's team is involved in some kind of combat.

Winath in general and the Ranzz farm in particular look abandoned, so Star Boy, Sun Boy, Mekt and Tenzil take the search underground, which is apparently where the real action is on Winath. They discover some graffiti ('Validus') that causes Mekt to go a bit squirrelly, and after the fight we get some of his backstory: he was born a solo, which meant that some people connected him with the legend of Validus, the Lightning Lord, who is an evil storm god secretly worshiped by some Winathi. The Validus cult sent Mekt to look for Validus on Korbal, which is where he and Garth and Ayla got their lightning powers. The cult didn't think that was a satisfactory resolution of their legend, though, and it's implied that Mekt killed the cult in the resulting dispute. So what's the graffiti doing there?

Meanwhile, Tenzil has wandered off on his own, and two young Winathi lock him in a grain silo and try to kill him by dumping in the grain.

The two young Winathi report back to some more Winathi, just as the other three are stumbling across them themselves. They're in robes and look for all the world like they ought to be the Validus cult, and they use some lightning powers of their own to attack Mekt, saying, "The lord of lightning demands it!"


Now that's what I want to see!

Most important thing about this issue: the arrival of Dennis Calero on art. Now, Calero is no Barry Kitson. Kitson's character renditions were straightforward, classic, beautiful. Calero's are wry, expressive, anatomically idiosyncratic. Kitson's characters could look noble; Calero's characters look knowing. I'm sure not everyone will rate Calero's art on this issue as highly as I do, but I think that's because his style is less broadly appealing than Kitson's. I hope he sticks around; if he can keep to this standard over a long run of issues he'll be one of the all-time great Legion artists. Along with, you know, the dozen or so other great Legion artists we've had over the years. (Note: I've since read a post of his on the Legion World boards and it seems he's not going to be the long-term guy on this title. Sour.)

Calero's art transforms the characters. Look at page 2: Star Boy and Sun Boy look more like people than they ever have in the threeboot. Tenzil looks smooth and unscrupulous, almost like the Corinthian. Mekt looks sullen and crazy. I think we're lucky to have this guy on this comic book. As I said, he's no Kitson... but Kitson is no Calero.

It's amazing how much the art helps. I'm more comfortable talking about the writing of a comic book than I am about the art, but I bet I wouldn't like this issue half so much if it was drawn by Sharpe or DeKraker. Because, really, not much happens. A Legion team arrives on Winath, learns a bit of backstory, and meets their adversaries. In the Silver Age they'd probably get that done in less than four pages. Bedard has much of interest to fill the rest of the pages with, though, including some things that want a little chewing over.

Validus, for instance. It sure looks like this storyline will involve the first appearance of Validus in this title... but not the first appearance of Validus in threeboot continuity! After all, he appeared in The Brave and the Bold recently, as one-fifth of the classic Fatal Five lineup. How to reconcile the Fatal Five member with the Winathi storm god? Should Sun Boy and Star Boy already know who he is, or not? The painted Validus-figure on the wall behind the cult members at the end of the issue look like what Validus ought to look like, so maybe there's no problem there...

I'm still not sure what to make of how Bedard is characterizing Tenzil. It's been the conventional wisdom ever since the 5YL era that he's best used as comic relief, and he's certainly not that here. I don't know what good it is to cast him as a slick government lawyer, but in this issue we get a bit more of him than that: he also has a tendency to overreach himself, and has enough self-awareness not to be obnoxious. One nice bit of foreshadowing: on page 2, he's chewing on a stalk of wheat, farmer-style. He's going to need to a lot more wheat-chewing than that to get out of the silo...

The Legion needs issues like this, ones that focus on a small selection of the characters. There are so many Legionnaires that you can't look at them all at once; the writer needs to show us a few, then put them back in the box and show us a different set, then after a while there can be a big story that uses them all. That's one weakness that showed up late in Waid and Kitson's run: too many characters all on stage at one time for too long. I wouldn't want every issue to be like this, with only a few Legionnaires featured... but it would probably be a good idea more than half of the time.

Okay! We're back on track! Can't wait for next month!

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