Sunday, May 03, 2009

Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #4 Review

First the review, then a reaction to recent announcements below. I seem to have a lot to say about this!


Only one more Legion comic after this one. (But see below!)

What Happened That You Have to Know About:

The fighting continues. Superboy-Prime carves a couple of notches onto his belt corresponding to Kinetix and threeboot Element Lad. Wildfire, Dawnstar and Polar Boy return to the future with Luthor's hair, which turns out to be the last ingredient needed to resurrect Superboy II (aka Kon-El, aka Conner Kent). The Time Trapper yoinks retroboot Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl and Cosmic Boy, and Superman, out of the fight and confronts them at the end of time, revealing himself to be an aged version of Superboy-Prime.


Let's get to the big reveal first: that the Time Trapper is really Superboy-Prime. The thing I noticed most about this was the reaction from various readers on the internet. Very often, big surprises like this get responses of "Wow!" or "OMG!" or "Holy $%&#!," but that's not what happened in this case. The reaction I saw more than once was, "Let me get this straight..."*

And I sympathize. Most of this ground has been thoroughly picked over by others, but: the Time Trapper is a thoughtful villain who does a lot of careful planning and is in no rush. Superboy-Prime is a thoughtless villain who reacts impulsively. It's not impossible for the other to turn into the one, especially after allowing for the passage of all that time, but it's certainly not something that leaps easily to the mind. The other objection is, if Superman and Superboy and Kid Flash and Ion--oh yeah, and the Legions too--win the conflict against Prime and the LSV, then how does Prime become the Time Trapper? And what happens to all those old Time Trapper stories if he doesn't? And if Prime wins, then why does he bother becoming the Time Trapper? It sorta looks like you get hit by a paradox no matter which way you look.**

There is, of course, an easy way out. It has been widely noted that the Trapper has had multiple identities in the past, and therefore there's no need to expect that this one will stick any more tightly than any of the others. Which is quite true. But, to me, that doesn't really get to the core of the Trapper's nature, which is this: he is, by nature, impossible to pin. He won't stay where he's put. Because there's always another layer of deception. The Trapper is turtles all the way down, if you will. The Superboy-Prime identity will last only as long as it takes some Legion writer to show a gloating Time Trapper on a floating rock at the end of time, monologuing about how he deceived and manipulated Superboy-Prime into believing that he, Superboy-Prime, was the Time Trapper, when in fact he was only a decoy for the Legion to busy themselves with. It could happen as soon as next issue.

A lot of what I might have to say about this issue has been covered by others. Let's get it out of the way:
- what's the point of killing Kinetix off? She wasn't in the way of anything.
- the magical aspect of Kinetix’s powers is really being emphasized here. I imagine it’s because Johns has something in mind.
- her death does seem to be one of those newfangled reversible ones, though. I wonder if they're planning on not only bringing her back but also pulling Leviathan out of a side pocket while they're at it. I'm going to have to look into how reboot-Gim died; I think I don't have that comic.
- threeboot-Jan's death is also not necessarily final, depending on what kind of medical help he can get. Let's assume he's gone, though: what is the deal with getting rid of all the Element Lads? Retroboot Jan is nowhere to be found; reboot Jan's powers were traded in on Live Wire's; threeboot Jan is presumably dead. Is this going to be a plot point? I think Brainy was a little quick off the mark at restoring Live Wire's powers in the first place. Sure, the extra electricity must have come in handy, but isn't there more to be gained by having an element-changer around? If I was Brainy, I'd never let Element Lad out of my sight--he's a portable infinite supply of every element and compound imaginable! There's no limit to what could be achieved.
- although let me just say here that I’m not a fan of bringing dead characters back to life. If you didn’t want them to be dead you shouldn’t have killed them in the first place.
- Superboy-Prime's reaction to threeboot kryptonite seems to confirm everyone's hunch that the threeboot comes from Earth-Prime.
- I’ve seen complaints about the characterization of threeboot Jan in this issue. I wouldn’t call it mischaracterization; I think it’s just that Johns doesn’t have the hang of the character the way Waid did. No big thing. (Similarly: Shikari called Umbra “Umbra” and not “Dark Legion”! I hope it wasn’t a conscious choice on Johns’s part; one of my favourite things about Shikari is how she never uses anyone’s name. It was probably done just for expository purposes.)
- I’ve also seen the idea that the reboot and threeboot Legions are being shown in this comic as distinctly inferior to the retroboot Legion. I reread this issue with that in mind, but I don’t really see it.

- it looks like Cosmic Boy’s reconstituted Substitute Heroes from the end of the Levitz era are still in continuity. Huh.
- “And incomplete. I followed it step-by-step with little success.” That’s a candidate for the best Legion line of the year.
- the Polar Boy/Sun Boy panel on page 24 has a kind of Pisces-fish yin-yang arrangement to it that I think is a neat idea, in this context. The two of them are opposites in a very obvious and superficial way, but they also have recently had contrasting personalities, and more interestingly, they seem to have the wrong personalities to go along with their powers.
- I’ve been pleased at how much Perez has managed to pack into every page, so much so that I don’t mind the unusual (for him) number of full-page panels in this issue. Still, I would have liked to get a look at the “S” that Prime was burning into the Earth.
- the cover I got was Brainy conjuring Kid Flash out of the lightning rod. Doesn’t really look that great, either; not Perez’s usual style.

I can think of a couple of ways of ending this series, while addressing the whole redemption-of-Superboy-Prime angle that hasn't been played up quite as strongly as I was hoping.

Scenario 1: Superman and the three founders manage to talk to the Time Trapper for five seconds; after all, the Trapper is not as trigger-happy as he was in his youth. Eventually the Trapper says, look, I'm not actually happy like this. Couldn't you do something to see that it doesn't all turn out this way? And they get the threeboot Legion to go back in time and visit Clark-Kent-Prime before this whole mess started, and invite him to the future, and so on, and it all turns out different and the Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds is over. The last panel of the comic shows a room at Titans Tower in the present-day, where Pantha wonders why her neck was so itchy for a second there.

Scenario 2: Someone thinks of the perfect weapon to use on Superboy-Prime. Who should it be--Superman? Bart? Threeboot-Tinya? Any of those. Whoever it is throws some Hostess Fruit Pies down in front of Prime.

Superboy-Prime (recognizing the HFP and their significance): You're kidding me.
Superman/Bart/Tinya: Am I? There they are. It's your move, sport.
Superboy-Prime (laughs, picks up an HFP and mows down on it): I don't know what to do next.
Superman/Bart/Tinya: Help us clean up the LSV and we'll talk about it.
Superboy-Prime: Just like that?
Superman/Bart/Tinya: Just like that.

Seriously. If I read that ending, or something like it, I'd think it was the most awesomest thing ever. I wonder if DC would have the nerve.

Is there a good reason why Starman would rather be wearing his costume than plainclothes to disinter Superboy II? Or is it just because he’s crazy?

All the time spent explaining the whats of the whats of Bart’s resurrection serves to highlight one of the key features of this series: the many different audiences it’s meant to appeal to. This isn’t just a Legion miniseries and I would say it isn’t even primarily a Legion miniseries. First and foremost I think it’s a Superboy-Prime miniseries, although I don’t know if Prime actually has a fan base to draw upon. Here are the people reading this comic:
- DC completists
- Final Crisis completists
- Legion fans
- Superman fans
- Superboy-Prime fans, if any exist
- Green Lantern Corps fans
- Bart Allen and/or Flash Family fans

Which is a lot of people. And the reason why it’s being written like that is so that all of these different groups of fans will get some exposure to the other characters, and thereby potentially increase sales of all these different books for DC. This is an especially important point when it comes to the Legion, since the Legion’s the one that fans of other DC properties are most likely to have never tried. I think this is a key part of DC’s strategy for the Legion, and I have to admit that it makes sense.

Anyway, my point is that as a Legion fan, I don’t really give a red snot about how much sense the whole Bart deal makes, but Bart has lots of fans of his own, and they quite properly do want to hear the details.

Hey, it’s crackpot theory time again! Check it out:
- we’ve seen a modern account of Superman’s first meeting with the Legion founders, in the “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” arc in Action Comics. We noticed at the time that it didn’t quite resemble the story in Adventure Comics #247.
- and yet, DC did reprint the Legion story Adventure #247 recently, in Adventure #0.
- here in FC:L3W #4, the Time Trapper (who is later revealed as an elderly Superboy-Prime) says that, in his efforts to erase Superman’s influence from the timeline, that his “focus had always been on the Legion, for what they did to me.”

Well, what did they do to him?

Maybe Geoff Johns is retconning Adventure #247 so that it’s now about the threeboot Legion going back and visiting Superboy-Prime and, of course, playing that stupid prank on him that he’s still mad about to this day. That sorta fits, doesn’t it? (Not a new idea for me, as you’ll see if you click on one of the links seventeen paragraphs below this one.)

(An alternate way of working it is that he’s mad that they never came back and visited him the way they did in the comics he read as a kid. Which of course ties in to one of the ways of ending the series, mentioned above.)

Oh well. We’ll see sometime in the next year or so.

In terms of quality, this issue was all of a piece with the other three, which were excellent, but I’m starting to wonder if maybe we didn’t need five issues to tell this story. It’s not a complex plot, after all: Superboy-Prime recruits friends and raises hell; the Legion recruits friends and tries to stop him. Fighting. Now, this series doesn’t feel puffed out like the Action arc did, but it seems like the five-issue structure was chosen because of the introductory beats Johns wanted to hit:
Issue 1 – premise is set out
Issue 2 – return of Sodam Yat
Issue 3 – return of Bart Allen
Issue 4 – return of Conner Kent
Issue 5 – resolution

I’m not saying I think it should have been over in four issues. It’s not like I feel that my time has been wasted. But I will point out that if the series had been only four issues long, it’d be over by now, only one terrestrial season after the end of Final Crisis.


Once this comic was safely in stores, Geoff Johns announced some stuff about the upcoming Adventure Comics title. The announcement is here, for anyone who wants to go look at it again.

I'm a bit leery of some parts of this announcement. I've got red warning lights going off inside my head. I'm suspicious and skeptical. I've got the jellyleg.

Let's take stock of what we know and what we don't know.

We know:
- Superboy II and the Legion will be sharing Adventure Comics, starting in August.
- Geoff Johns is the writer and Francis Manapul is the artist. Or one of the artists, anyway.

We don't know:
- the nature or composition of the Legion that will be appearing in this comic book.
- how the pages will be allocated between Superboy and the Legion.

We don't know, but can assume until we get some better information, that:
- the Legion, as a co-feature, will get eight pages of Adventure to Superboy's twenty-two.
- the Legion will, for the most part, be Johns's retroboot Legion.***

I am worried that:
- the regular Legion title somebody said was going to exist in 2010 is this Adventure time-share and not an actual Legion comic.
- Johns's take on this Legion, as an ongoing concern, is going to be primarily nostalgic.

Of course we need to wait until all the details are in. Trust me, I am going to give this title every benefit of the doubt. But so far I'm not getting a really good vibe from it.

First, the nostalgia thing. It's something I feel strongly about, and it's been a threat for quite a while now. Consider the following:
- Johns's preferred Legion to write about seems to be his retroboot Legion, which is more like Paul Levitz's Legion of the 1980s than anything else
- the comic book Johns announced is called Adventure Comics, and it stars Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes, just like in the 1960s
- the cover is an homage to the cover of Adventure # 300 from 1962 (and, by extension, Legion of Super-Heroes v2 #301, from 1983)
- the art we've seen so far shows Superboy living in Smallville with Ma Kent and Krypto, throwing a baseball under the majestic arching midwestern skies, just like in the 1950s and '60s. Of course, Smallville is a small town, and as we were so carefully instructed during the last U.S. election, that's the only kind of place where traditional American values can still be found

Gee, I can't imagine what I was worrying about.

Now, I don't want to overstate the case here. If anyone likes to read Legion comics because it reminds them of reading Legion comics back when they were eleven, far be it from me to object. It's not a reaction I share, but that's okay; whatever floats your boat; free country. And if the new Adventure elicits that reaction in people, then fine. What I object to is nostalgia placed above any other consideration, and that's what I'm worried that we're getting. Look back at the three major Legion-related stories Johns has given us: "The Lightning Saga," "Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes," and Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds. They all recycle old Legion characters, stories, ideas, and bits of business, and if anything new was introduced in any of them, I missed it.

I don't have much time for nostalgism in general, but I find it particularly offensive when it comes to the Legion, because one of the major defining features of the Legion is its optimistic-future setting. To say (as I have seen it said!) that the Legion is primarily a vehicle for nostalgia is, on one level, to say that believing in the future is something that we used to do but now we know better. Well, if that's the way you think then you might as well stick your head in the damn oven. We're going to be spending the rest of our lives in the future; let's not give up on it so easily.

I once wrote DC a letter (scroll way down in that link) in which I recommended that they address the Legion Problem by finding a way of reconciling the original, reboot, threeboot, 5YL and SW6 Legions, but making sure to use those Legions exactly and not just ones that were kinda like them. I figured that that was the only way people would be able to transfer over all the emotional investment they had made in all those different Legions. It turns out that I was completely


about that. The way it actually works is that the majority of Legion fans can transfer over their emotional investments just fine as long as the names and costumes are right. In fact, they'll get quite huffy if you dare to point out any of the things that aren't the same as their old favourites: if it's not the same Legion, how come they feel the same way about it? Answer that!

So that surprised me, but, hey, if everybody's happy then there's no problem.

Except, for some Legion fans--not all of us, but not none of us either--there's no difference between a warmed-over arrangement of Legion nostalgia and a good Legion story. If--if--Johns's take on the Legion is primarily a nostalgic one, there are fans out there who will still eat it up like it's ice cream. And if there are enough of them, DC may think it's got a success on its hands when actually they're just getting away with pandering. Meanwhile, those of us who want to read innovative superhero stories, who like a little science fiction with our capes and villains, who read Legion comics because it's one of the few superhero comics out there where characters can change and stay changed, who actually want the story to be good more than we want to namecheck how many Silver Age characters appear in the backgrounds... we're out in the cold. Ars gratia artis, damn your poxy eyes.

Here's a characterization that just came to mind, and I hope it’s not really what’s going on: Adventure Comics is DC's way of giving a bottle of warm milk to the many whiny suckybabies in Legion fandom. "Waah! It's not the real Legion if Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl aren't together! I won't read it! DC needs to kill these punks and bring back the Cockrum uniforms!" Maggots.

Given a choice between Jim Shooter's Hey-Ho Legion of Super-Foobs and Geoff Johns's The Legion of Your Life, I'd take the former in a shake of Sensor's tail. Shooter, for all his ill-advised moves, was at least trying to innovate a little. We weren't getting the same-old same-old from Jim Shooter. And I could say the same about Mark Waid. I'd much rather have a writer fail at something worthwhile than succeed at the Legion version of the Chris Farley Show.****

As for the rest of it: Dan DiDio said at some convention that DC would show an increased commitment to the Legion in 2009. If--if, I say--DC's plans for the Legion end with eight wistful and backward-looking pages a month in Adventure, then I'd like to show DiDio the dictionary definition of "increased". Because it wasn't so long ago that the Legion had two monthly ongoing titles in addition to all their other appearances (not to mention their own freaking TV show, although that isn't part of DC's bailiwick), and I don't consider it an increased commitment to trade all that in on eight-page monthly installments of Geoff Johns's childhood memories at $3.99 a pop.

It's possible I'm getting exercised about nothing. There are legitimate reasons to be looking forward to Adventure. Kon-El's not my particular favourite, but he's okay. Manapul's a good artist and his sample panels are beautiful. Johns is a perpetually entertaining writer and he may have some original ideas in store for us. The Legion may get significantly more than eight pages an issue (one idea I had: one issue, Superboy gets twenty-two pages and the Legion gets eight. Next issue, Superboy gets eight and the Legion gets twenty-two), and/or their co-feature may be a springboard for a title of their own (perhaps Adventure itself, perhaps a Legion of Super-Heroes v6). And there are some obvious signs of careful planning here. So we'll wait out the details. I'm just uneasy about the whole thing.

* …as the bishop said to the actress.
** I also have to admit that I still like my Time Trapper = Luthor idea better. Oh well.
*** Although it would be kinda neat for Superboy II to be sharing his comic with the reboot Legion. After all, a) he’s already a member, b) it sorta looks like Johns has something brewing with them, the way Kinetix died, and c) if I’m not mistaken they’re the Legion that Johns first imprinted on as a fan.
**** Remember that? That was great.

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