Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes #35 Review

What Happened That You Have To Know About:

Despite Timber Wolf's new radiation-fueled power boost and attendant feral look, Wildfire gets past him and Shady to the Lallor president's office. Atom Girl's there, though, and she talks him out of killing anyone before she neutralizes Wildfire's brother Randall.

Meanwhile, Lightning Lad, Supergirl and Saturn Girl meet Evolvo Lad, who's been building a time machine. He takes out Lightning Lad and Supergirl quite easily, and we see that his time machine is calibrated on the time and place in 52 when Supergirl reappeared in the 21st century.


Hmm. The Lallor story probably could have been told in an issue, but instead we got an issue and a half. I guess that's not bad. Similarly, we're going to be getting about an issue and a half for the Evolvo Lad thing. That's a pace I can live with.

Another strong performance from Dennis Calero. I liked the one panel where we see Brainiac 5's jaw while Atom Girl is giving Wildfire a way out. Here's an analogy: Dennis Calero:men's mouths::Barry Kitson:line of the part in women's hair. Oh, and I like the size-changing effects on Atom Girl (and, I suppose, Micro Lad, as shown on the cover).

One aspect of this issue got me thinking about the whole aspect of turnaround time in comics. As in, once issue #34 came out, was there time to make any changes to issue #35? Because Shady and Atom Girl seemed kinda bloodthirsty in #34, and Wildfire was an assassin, and we had our doubts about Brainy from that whole mess on Winath, and a lot of people did not like this trend... and then in #35 we get reassurances all around that Atom Girl and Brainy and Wildfire would never kill anybody (I guess we caught Wildfire on his first job as an assassin). To which my reaction is twofold. First, I'm glad that Bedard and Calero thought that the point was worth making; thanks. Second, I can buy this in the cases of Atom Girl (she said, “You waste the president and whatever’s worthwhile inside you dies, too.” She said that!) and Wildfire but I still need some more details when it comes to Brainy. (Maybe part of this is that Calero's style can make his male characters look smug.)

In particular I like what gets revealed to us about Atom Girl here. It works well with what's been previously established about her. In her conversation with Invisible Kid back in #14, we found out she likes other people to think she's a badass. The scene where she subdues Randall supports this: she basically threatens to blow his head off, and he calls her bluff. She doesn't shoot him, but she has a backup plan anyway (one that involves cracking him one on the melon). Someone who projected her hard-as-nails persona out of insecurity might have panicked when Randall went for the gun, but Atom Girl didn't hesitate before reacting effectively, suggesting that hers is a calculated act. Her attraction to Wildfire is harder to figure. I guess she's brash enough to announce it like she did, even on such a short acquaintance in the shy 31st century, but why Wildfire? Guy's just energy in a containment suit; what's to be attracted to? One possible answer: maybe she's not really that interested in men, like one or two earlier versions of her character, and so she's fooling herself by glomming onto a guy who's not sexually unavailable. Works even better than the long-distance relationship with the empty suit that was Duplicate Boy.

I'm proud to say that I anticipated Atom Girl's stunt with the telephone as soon as she said, "Is that a land line?" A blast from the past. This is the kind of thing that Mark Waid's been doing in The Brave and the Bold, resurrecting forgotten signature moments. I don't think Ryan Choi's done that trick yet, so I'm glad that Atom Girl is keeping the faith. And, really? She intentionally named herself after Ray Palmer? That's dashed interesting. Ray Palmer is, of course, about as close as the present-day DCU can come to Brainiac 5... (well, okay, he's not; Vril Dox is. But still.)

Timber Wolf, on the other hand... it's interesting that he's got this resistance to radiation, if that's indeed what it is, and I'm resigned to the savage look (but why does he look like his nose is twisted to the side? He's named after a wolf, not a spoonbill), but we really didn't get to know him as much as I hoped we were going to. He basically traded a few punches with Wildfire and that was it.

Meanwhile, Supergirl, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl. So far their story is looking pretty rudimentary. They fly over the jungle and fight Evolvo Lad. I hope there's going to be more to it than that. What's he even up to?

While we're on the subject of 52... I enjoyed 52, but in a lot of ways it didn't do what it was supposed to do. One of its functions was supposed to be to fill in the gap between Infinite Crisis and 'One Year Later'... but it didn't really focus on that stuff, the connecting material, and that aspect mostly got shoved to the side. But Bedard and Calero have been given a similar mission with their six issues, to fill in the gap between Mark Waid and Jim Shooter, and they're doing it admirably. The way I understand it, Bedard and Calero were given a short list of things to set up for Shooter's run, and look what they've already done in five issues. Shooter's going to be inheriting a Legion, it looks like, that doesn't have Supergirl or Cosmic Boy, but does have Sun Boy, Wildfire and Terror Firma (maybe). The Wanderers aren't around any longer and the Legion is ready for a new leader and a new HQ, and the Legion is now prominent and respected enough that Brainy can “fast-track Lallor’s U.P. induction”. And they got some decent story out of it too (the Winath part especially). So, nice job. Bedard and Calero may be remembered as footnotes in Legion history, but I think they deserve better than that.

Anyway, that's what's being accomplished on the storytelling side. What effects are the Legion's missions having in-story? The Winath mission freed some Winathish civilians from mind-control (although it's not really clear who was controlling them), cleared Cosmic Boy's name with the U.P. and got the Wanderers to leave Earth. The Lallor mission saved the Lallorian president (although it didn't clear up the civil war that was putting him in danger in the first place) and got Wildfire out of a bad situation. And the Gobi mission is going to (I figure) return Supergirl to the past and stop Evolvo Lad from... doing whatever he's doing. So if this is all stuff that's being rigged by Brainy and/or Dream Girl, what's the point of it? To address these emergencies? To strengthen the Legion's position? Both? Something else?

So, not a self-contained issue, with the way the Lallor thing ended halfway through and switched to the Gobi thing, but a reassuring one in its pace and characterization. I suspect that those readers who wait for the trade will be happy with the Bedard-Calero volume.

Membership Notes:

It looks like Wildfire is probably going to join the team. We seem to be accumulating a long list of Legionnaires who may or may not be part of Shooter's Legion, based on solicited covers and recent events: Wildfire, Cosmic Boy, Dream Boy and the Terror Firma crowd. And that's not even counting Supergirl.

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Action Comics: Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes (Part 1-#858)

What Happened That You Have To Know About:

Brainiac 5 recruits Superman to travel through time to the 31st century, because everything's terrible and only Superman can help. Superman arrives as Colossal Boy, Wildfire and Dawnstar are retrieving a box of rings (flight rings, one must assume) from an abandoned Legion HQ, and the Science Police raid them, destroying the Time Sphere Superman came in. Apparently the 31st century is now very xenophobic and the xenophobes are using Superman's name and symbol to strengthen their brand identity. Even worse, Earth's sun is red now, so Superman isn't exactly at full power. A couple of intriguing references in this issue are to a 'Justice League', and Brainy's mention of a 'fictitious discovery in the Arctic' as the start of all these problems.

Not Quite a Review:

Certainly some intriguing choices here. Casting the Legion as the embattled champions of diversity is kind of a six-inch putt, in that it's a role they're pretty well-designed to play. The red sun is a cool idea, and a useful one in that it keeps Superman (and, theoretically, Mon-El) from running off with the story. I wonder if it's going to pay off in other ways? I presume that the fictitious discovery in the Arctic is some kind of fake Fortress of Solitude...

The Legion logo used on the splash page was the one from Legion of Super-Heroes volume 3, the 'Baxter series' of the 1980s. And yet... there's a similarity between this story and the infamous 'Five Years Later...' stories of Legion of Super-Heroes volume 4. Both were separated from Levitz's run by a few years of in-story time. Both intervening periods featured significant events involving the sun (it turned red in this story; during the Five Year Gap was a little thing called Black Dawn, which was a turning point for the Legion's fortunes). And both stories are set in a future significantly more dystopian and depressing than is usual for the Legion. I wonder what the thinking is... is it a tribute to 5YL, or an attempt to do it 'right'? Or coincidence?

I’m a little unclear on what’s going on with Superman’s memory. I know that time travel is supposed to fog up one’s memory, but… he remembers the Lightning Saga, but Brainy has to remind him of how he first met the Legion? I’m not sure that scans.

It seems that I am willing to accept these Legionnaires as almost-original, deep down. Certainly when Colossal Boy was fighting the SPs I had more confidence that he could handle it than I would have for Leviathan or Micro Lad. But they don't feel completely right. Part of it's the costumes, and the unfamiliar art style, I guess.

I'm not sure what to make of the opening sequence, in which an alien couple on a civil-war-wracked planet send their kid to Earth in a revisit of the famous Jor-El-and-Lara scene. If it's a plot point that's going to be revisited later, then that's one thing. But if, as it seems, it's a vignette to show us just what the 31st century is like, then I don't like it. It's just mean. It implies, not that this is how bad the worst of the 31st century has gotten, but that this is how bad the best of the 31st century has gotten. I may find reason later to change my mind about the scene, but right now it's leaving a bad taste in my mouth.

Some points I’ve seen other people make, and agree with: Saturn Girl was being quite the flirt in that flashback, which is quite out of character. This was before Lightning Lad, of course, so no-harm-no-foul, but still out of character. Oh well; she was young. Also, Brainy mentioned “traveling to the proper vibrational plane”, which supports the notion that Superman and this Legion don’t come from the same Earth. (Which makes me even more curious about Mon-El’s story.

I know a lot of people were looking forward to Gary Frank's art in this story. I wasn't previously familiar with his work, but he acquitted himself well. Some of the characters look a little scrawny and/or wild-eyed, but that's okay.

Anyway, it's early days yet. The story hasn't really started getting going. We've had the premise established but not much else.

Early Reaction:

Seems to be uniformly positive so far. (Except for some qualms about various characterizations at the Daily Planet, which I believe is outside of my scope.)

Running Legion Count:

Bouncing Boy*, Brainiac 5, Chameleon Boy*, Colossal Boy, Cosmic Boy, Dawnstar, Dream Girl*, Element Lad*, Ferro Lad*, Invisible Kid I*, Karate Kid*, Light Lass*, Lightning Lad, Matter-Eater Lad*, Mon-El*, Phantom Girl*, Princess Projectra/Sensor Girl*, Saturn Girl, Shadow Lass*, Shrinking Violet*, Star Boy/Starman*, Sun Boy*, Superman, Timber Wolf*, Triplicate Girl/Duo Damsel*, Ultra Boy*, Wildfire (27) (* only in brief flashback: 19)

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