Thursday, April 03, 2008

Action Comics: Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes (Part 6-#863) Plus Recent Developments

What Happened That You Have To Know About:

Brainy unhooks Sun Boy from the Plot Device, turning the sun yellow again just in time for Superman to get his powers back before Earth-Man kills him. Then there's a fight, which the Legion shows up for, having disposed of the other JLAers offstage, and Superman wins because he's Superman. The Legion intends to rebuild, and Superman and the Legion promise to keep in touch.


No moving parts to this issue; it's just a straight dash across the finish line. It is, of course, perfectly good; let me just get that out of the way.

Gary Frank seems to have his eyeballs under control this time out, and there were a few parts I particularly liked, like the silhouetted panel at the bottom of page 15.

I understand some people had a problem with the timing of the sun turning yellow, arguing that it couldn't possibly have happened quickly enough for Superman to get his powers back in time. Because of the speed of light. To which I say, yes, but a) let's not let details like that get in the way of a good story, and b) it's like The Amazing Race, where they edit the footage to make it seem like a closer race than it is. The panels featuring Superman and Sun Boy and the Sun may not have synched up they way it looked like they did in the comic.

The story as a whole... the main thing it had going for it, I think, was Geoff Johns's writing. The man can tell a story in an engaging way. That, and the considerable affection that there is out there for the original Legion, were the things that made this story the success that it is.

And it did have weaknesses. The tone was off a few times (the opening sequence where the alien kid gets killed, the persecuted nerdy life of Clark Kent, and one other thing I'll get to later). The villains were less than intimidating. We still don't know who was behind the whole thing. The plot was remarkably elementary. And there weren't any truly original elements to be seen, just old elements in interesting new combinations (Johns's specialty). And it took way too long to tell.

So... there have been some descriptions of this story as 'the best Legion story since _____'. Best Legion story since Legion Lost. Best Legion story since 'An Eye For an Eye'. If pressed, I'd say, "the Lemnos arc" as the correct contents of that blank space. Compare the two: I'll take Kitson's art over Frank's ten times out of ten, Lemnos and Elysion were credible adversaries in a way Johns's JLA never were, Waid wrote a more intricate plot that involved Legionnaires making difficult decisions, and created a few things along the way we'd never seen in Legion comics before.

Now, some will say that this arc was nonetheless better because it felt more like the Legion to them, but I think that's an illusion. I believe that when people say that a comic book 'feels like the Legion', what it really means is that they recognize their own emotional investment in the characters. In other words, it says more about the reader than it does about the comic.

One objection I had. The climactic page of the whole story, where Superman pounds the snot out of Earth-Man and says, "I've been an outsider every day of my life"? Lame. Not right.

I mean, the whole Superman-as-outsider thing is an acceptable take on the character, I guess, if not one I prefer. My touchstone for Superman is the 1970s prose novel Superman: Miracle Monday, written by noted Superman writer Elliot S! Maggin. It features a scene where Superman, on the verge of being driven to extremes by the villain of the story, has it brought home to him that he is a part of the world on the most basic and fundamental level, and therefore not an outsider at all.

But look: Superman has a close relationship with wise and devoted parents. He has the best dog in the world. He's married to Lois Lane. He has two fulfilling careers for which he's won world renown. His best friends are the world's other greatest heroes, all of whom completely accept and respect him. And, more to the point, he has the Legion. Isn't that the point of this whole story, that he once felt like an outsider but then he made friends with the Legion? So how can he stand there surrounded by the Legion and still say he's an outsider?

Oh, sure; he probably still feels like that every now and then. We all do. If you want to get right down to it, nobody really understands anybody and we're all outsiders. But Superman's wise enough to be aware of his very real connections to the dozens of extraordinary people in his life, and I have a hard time with the notion that he'd air one of his rare moments of self-pity publicly, for the benefit of freaking Absorbancy Boy.

- I didn't notice the Dr. Zoidberg cameo until it was pointed out to me.
- "Look! Up in the sky! What the hell is that?" Exactly.
- The Subs didn't come down to help in the final fight? Pick a reason: they had to secure the JLA, or they don't have the flight rings.
- Splash page count: two, but one of those two was a double-page splash with a single small panel in the bottom corner.

Membership Notes:

No new Legionnaires this issue, so last issue's count is the final one. I'd like it cleared up about whether Yera is a Legionnaire or not. I kinda hope she isn't; it's hard to find good supporting characters these days.

Coming Attractions:

And then there's the ad at the back of Action #863, for Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds (hereafter, FC:L3W). When I first saw it, I thought it was two ads for two different comics, one per page. I didn't realize that it was all for the same thing until my second reading. And when I saw it, I was skeptical. I was all, oh, cripes, the LSV again, and Superboy-Prime again, and it's always the same stuff over and over, and it's just a big nostalgiafest. Then I got home and saw the Johns interview at Newsarama, and it brought me around. After all, the true test of an intelligent man is the degree to which he agrees with you. For instance, I wrote this letter to DC a year or so ago:

This letter is about the Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s not a complaint, as this is a wonderful time (what with the main title being so great, the TV show, and the upcoming series based on the TV show) to be a fan of the Legion; it’s somewhere between a request and a suggestion.

For many reasons that you know better than I do, this is a time of change for the Legion. So it’s also an opportunity to address the long-term frustrations of many Legion fans. Fans of the original Legion are frustrated that their Legion has been rebooted away, but they’re hopeful; fans of the post-Zero-Hour Legion are frustrated that their Legion has been rebooted away, and aren’t hopeful; fans of the Waid-and-Kitson Legion are happy for now but are worried about what’s coming after issue #30. My solution:

Please establish, in a comic book, that all Legion versions are in active continuity.

There must be a way of doing it, after all, if the multiverse is coming back into play. I know that elements of the original Legion have been seen in Justice Society and elsewhere, and there are rumours of that Legion coming back in some way, but I’m still concerned that the post-Zero-Hour Legion and, depending, maybe even the Five-Years-Later Legion and the Waid-and-Kitson Legion will be left out in the cold.

The point of my solution is that it’s an alienating experience for one’s favourite characters or favourite stories to be excommunicated. DC could delight many fans, and maybe sell more comics, by restoring these previous versions of the Legion to the DC Universe. And it wouldn’t cost you anything. I’m not asking for each of these Legions to get their own series, of course. (Although, if they did, I’d buy them.) But I believe that it would make a difference if Legion fans knew unequivocally that their favourite version(s) of the Legion did exist somewhere in DC reality and were eligible for use in future storytelling.

Thanks for all the great comics, and for considering my idea,

Matthew E

Also, I posted this on the Legion World forums one time:

I would like to see a story in which the main character is Darkseid. It would start with his curse of the Legion at the end of the Great Darkness Saga. From there it would reveal how Darkseid engineered and manipulated the Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Time Trapper's machinations with the pocket universe and Superboy, Zero Hour, Superboy-Prime punching stuff, and Infinite Crisis, all in an attempt to gain revenge on the Legion by trying repeatedly to prevent them from ever existing. But this is all backstory, and could be covered in a few pages.

The main part of the story would be Darkseid's discovery of the current version of the Legion. He's surprised that they're there; he thought that he finished them off with the events of the Titans-Legion Special. So now he's really mad, and comes up with some kind of time-travel plan to nullify the Legion once and for all. I don't know what; something that a) is cool, b) is formidable, and c) actually makes a good story. This is the main part of the special, or miniseries, or whatever: the Legion fighting Darkseid's plan.

But here's how it ends: the Legion fails to stop Darkseid's plan. Darkseid is triumphant. Until he takes another look at the 31st century and sees that the Legion is still there, unchanged. And he realizes that he's lost, that his curse is not strong enough: no matter what he or anybody does, there will always be a Legion of Super-Heroes to defend the future. The Legion will survive--it's what they do.

And then in the interview, Johns said this:

NRAMA: So the very latest that we've seen any of these Legions – that’s when this takes place?

GJ: Yep.

NRAMA: Everything in their history – is it all canon now?

GJ: Yeah.

NRAMA: So, nothing's been wiped away by any crisis or time-altering event?

GJ: We find out really where all those "wiping aways" and the various plans throughout the universe and history were orchestrated – like when Superboy was found to be an imposter right after the first Crisis, and then when they were wiped away in Zero Hour – there’s a connection to all that stuff. Someone's been screwing with the Legion for a very long time.

It's like either a) great minds think alike, or b) DC has actually been paying attention to me. I'm not sure which notion scares me more.

Anyway, in the scenario I described above, it doesn't have to be Darkseid, of course. As is mentioned in the interview, the Time Trapper would work too. Or, for that matter, Superboy Prime. Imagine it this way: back on Earth-Prime, before Crisis on Infinite Earths, the Legion of Earth-Prime comes back to the 20th century and brings Superboy Prime to the future for their version of Adventure #247. Only he doesn't take it quite as well as the Earth-One Superboy did, and returns to the present thinking to himself, "One of these days, those futuristic dongwranglers are going to get what's coming to them..."

All over the internet I've been arguing that the rumored Legion miniseries this summer would not be 'Legion of Three Worlds', because the Legion of Three Worlds story mentioned in that issue of JSA took place in the past. Turns out that my analysis was right but my conclusion was wrong: this is, simply, the second meeting of all three Legions, and we may or may not hear about the long-past first meeting some other time.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to it, of course, but I hope there's a bit more story to it than this Action arc had. I mean, it's always nice to see all the boys and girls again, but if I'm putting down money I like to get something with some heft back for it. Nothing against Johns; it's just the nature of crossovers. Big crossovers aren't what makes a character or team great; what makes them great is the accumulation of issue after issue of doing what they do. Crossovers are just the awards ceremony. If this one's relatively free of editorial demands, though, who knows?

I wonder if there's a connection between Libra, the villain of Final Crisis, and the Gemini matrix from the 'Quiet Darkness' storyline in LSH v4.

So, George Perez. The only question is, is the art going to be good, like it was when the Legion appeared in Waid and Perez's Brave and Bold, or great, like it is the rest of the time when Perez draws something?

It's obviously going to be big and compelling. It has a good chance of being actually good to read. But I wonder what might come out of it. I doubt DC would do a full reboot. And I doubt they'd completely get rid of any of these Legions; they seem to be trying to please the fans rather than alienate them again. I'm hoping that we get some kind of accommodation for all versions. (At the moment, the post-Crisis/5YL bunch seems shut out, but if you read Johns's interview carefully, it seems like he may actually have a way of fitting all that stuff in, somehow, sort of.

The other suspicion I have is that Jim Shooter is faking us out with his 'I'm on the Legion for the foreseeable future' talk, and is just there to do his sixteen-issue swan song, which will put the threeboot Legion to bed, at which point the title will be turned over to Johns's Legion. I haven't heard anything; I'm just thinking out loud. Anyway, if it does happen, I hope that whoever writes it does some new stuff with the characters. If Waid and Shooter can try to do some innovation with the Threeboot, and the LSH31C comic can try to strike some new notes the way they do, then we can do better than Johns's revival Legion fighting Mordru again. I think Ricky Nelson said it best when he said, "If memories were all I sang, I'd rather drive a truck."

The thing I like best about FC:L3W is how it seems to be part of a movement to make the Legion a more prominent franchise. Johns + Perez + Final Crisis is some pretty big juice to be putting behind it, and it comes after two successful seasons of a TV show, and amidst other evidence of the team's 50th anniversary. From what I've seen on the comments after the interview, there are already people who've never read a Legion comic in their lives, but will be picking this up. This supports the two basic principles that lie behind this blog (1. The Legion is good. 2. More is better.) so of course I have to like it.

Next issue of Action seems to be entitled 'Batman and the Legion of Super-Heroes'. I'm getting it, but I don't know if I'll review it yet; I'll see after I've read it.

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