Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Legion of Super Heroes #1 - A Review
I grew up a Marvel fan, weaned on the power chords of the X-Men cartoon’s theme song, so it is difficult for me to understand what DC is thinking in the best of times. However, during the Dan Didio era, I have had quite of a bit of more trouble understanding them than usual. The decisions made by the company, at least on their books not written by Geoff Johns and Grant Morrison, frequently seem equal parts erratic, mystifying, heavy handed, and devoid of common sense. Which brings us to the latest relaunch of the Legion of Super Heroes.
I didn’t grow up on the Legion, so unlike some members of this blog I cannot rattle off a definitive list of Legion chair people off the top of my head (HI JIM). However, the Post Zero Hour Legion was the first DC book I really got into and I enjoyed the Abnett and Lanning and Mark Waid Legion runs, so I’d like to think I understand the appeal of the concept. I’m not a diehard enough fan to read the title regardless of quality, but I’m interested enough in it that I’d like to be reading a good Legion title. Which is why Legion of Super Heroes #1 is such a frustrating disappointment.
Written by longtime Legion scribe and the most mustachioed man in comics, Paul Levitz, this book picks up from the Silver Age continuity reestablished in Geoff John’s Superman and the Legion of Super Heroes storyline. A xenophobic Earth is trying to regain entry into the United Planets. As a sign of good faith, they transfer the Time Institute to Titan while also demanding that Earth Man, the fascist villain at the center of the Superman story, gets admitted to the Legion in exchange for them keeping their headquarters on Earth. All the while, Oa starts looking for a new Green Lantern and scientists at the time institute start an intergalactic disaster by looking at the dawn of time.
Taken in isolation, this is not a bad issue. There are some interesting ideas at play here, like putting Earth Man on the Legion or the bureaucracy of an institution whose task is to study time. However, the book struggles to overcome some clunky, dated writing. Just take this piece of dialogue from a scientist of the time institute: “Yet when you speak of such exotic mysteries, I feel a chill in the room. Not from the breeze the hovercrane let in, but from my soul.” I’m sure that sends chills up Chris Claremont’s spine, but lines like that just ground the book to a halt for me. On the art side, Yildiray Cinar is very good in places, while much rougher in others. All in all, he gives the kind of performance you’d expect from a developing artist.
Where the book becomes a massive failure is the fact that it is a first issue of an ongoing title. If we had been getting a Legion book for the past year, and this was just Levitz’s first issue on the title, I would have no real problem with this. However, this is the relaunch of one of DC’s oldest and most confusing properties. I know that they brought the Silver Age Legion back in Superman and they starred in some back up stories in Adventure Comics and also played a role in a Superman crossover, but this is the first ongoing book with “Legion of Super Heroes” on the cover since they cancelled Mark Waid’s iteration. Since the early 90’s, they’ve re-ordered the Legion’s continuity multiple times and for fans under the age of 30, this is probably their first exposure to this Silver Age Legion.
Relaunching this book needed to be done with care and an eye on setting the agenda for a Legion that DC went to considerable lengths to bring back. DC even went to the trouble of assembling Geoff Johns and George Perez (an A+ level creative team by anyone’s standards) together on a miniseries to sort out its current continuity. Yet DC waited over a year to publish an actual Legion of Super Heroes title and when it does finally publish it, it looks indistinguishable from a new story arc in a preexisting ongoing. This does not feel like the launch of an ongoing series that desperately needs a clear identity and mission statement, it feels like watching episode 6 or 13 of a television series. If you haven’t read Superman and the Legion of Super Heroes or Legion of 3 Worlds, then I have no idea how you could keep up with this book.
The same week this was published, Marvel put out Avengers #1. Now, I know some of my fellow bloggers disliked that book, but one thing you could not argue about it was that the people making understood what that issue needed to do. They made a book, despite being part of Brian Bendis’ 5 plus years on the Avengers franchise, that at least tried to be accessible and feel like the beginning of something new. That is precisely what Legion of Super-Heroes needed to do and it failed spectacularly. As Jim said in his post earlier today, I cannot see how a title that takes this approach from issue #1 is going to bring in new readers, or even lapsed Legion fans.
I have no idea what DC’s strategy with this book is. I know that the Legion has been a notoriously hard sell in the modern era and that the last two reboots (Abnett and Lanning’s Legion Lost and Mark Waid’s Threeboot) fell short of expectations. So maybe their plan is to appeal to the older fans who grew up on the Silver Age Legion, and ignore everyone who didn’t. Perhaps they’re right. The versions of the Legion that I liked certainly didn’t do well enough to stick around. I’m probably not the audience for this book, but that doesn’t change the fact that I can’t figure out how anyone in DC editorial thought that this would be a good way to relaunch one of their oldest franchises.