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Legion of Super-Heroes: What Went Wrong

Legion of Super-Heroes #1-16, Annual #1, Legion of Super-Villains Special, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Francis Portela, Wayne Faucher, et. al., DC, 2010-2011


Following the reintroduction of the “classic” (and now adult) Legion of Super-Heroes in Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes and Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds, Paul Levitz – who wrote the series briefly in the 1970s and then for most of the 1980s – returned to write a new series with the classic team, picking up from where those stories left off. Now, I wasn’t a fan of Levitz’ second, more celebrated run (he screwed up and killed off many of my favorite characters, which made the book a whole lot of Not Fun for me), but having enjoyed those two recent series, I was curious to see what he’d do here. I was impressed with the practical way he wrote off chunks of earlier continuity and started with the new status quo established by Geoff Johns, and the book was being illustrated by Yildiray Cinar, who I wasn’t familiar with but who has a clean, futuristic look to his art.

Unfortunately, the book never really gelled for me, and it’s been cancelled with #16, to be relaunched as two titles in the DC relaunch next month. What went wrong?

Fundamentally, what went wrong is that – as happened his last time around – Levitz gets too caught up trying to write the book like a soap opera, with lots of little plots running, each getting a small amount of attention in each issue, so it becomes hard to follow what’s going on, and the ultimate pay-off of each plot thread is too diffused to be satisfying. It’s as if the book is being written to minimize the dramatic impact.

Here are the stories Levitz crammed into the 18 issues of the series:

  1. Earth-Man joins the team (#1-7, 16): The villain of Superman and the Legion, Earth-Man is a Legion reject who became a xenophobic tyrant, and Earthgov forces him on the team for decidedly implausible reasons. His story is I guess supposed to be one of redemption, and he does make the ultimate sacrifice in the end, but sleeping with Shadow Lass and his overall attitude still point him as a bastard, and you never really root for him. This thread was ill-conceived and comes to a pointless resolution.
  2. The destruction of Titan (#1-5, 7): Saturn Girl’s homeworld is destroyed and her people are scattered across the cosmos. This is the genesis of the main story at the beginning of the series.
  3. Saturn Girl’s children and kidnapped (#1-4): And she steals a time sphere to pursue them, and ends up finding a cult devoted to Darkseid. (Darkseid is intimated connected to the kids, which would be intriguing if Darkseid were even remotely interesting as a villain. In fact his sell-by date passed over 30 years ago.)
  4. The mysterious Professor Li (#1-2, 4-5, 7, 11-16): A scientist at the Time Institute, who seems to know something about why Titan was destroyed. We eventually learn where she comes from, but honestly I couldn’t care less. She’s a pointless character with uninteresting mystery behind her.
  5. The next last Green Lantern (#1-7, 10-16): An entity named Dyogene decides someone other than Sodam Yat needs to become a Green Lantern to carry on the tradition. First it chooses Earth-Man, who rejects it, and then it chooses Mon-El, who accepts it for a while, and then steps down. There was never really any point to all of this, so I don’t see why Levitz bothered.
  6. The assassins from Durla (#2, 5, 7-10): Some shape-shifting assassins from Chameleon Boy’s homeworld come to Earth to punish the United Planets council for letting R.J. Brande die. This story suffers badly from being chopped up among multiple issues, and the capturing of the assassins and revelation of their identities is sapped of any dramatic impact.
  7. Saturn Queen and the Legion of Super-Villains (#2-3, LSV special, 11-16): Spurred by the destruction of Titan, Saturn Queen assembles a new Legion of Super-Villains, which dominates the last third of the series. Yes, another LSV arc, yawn. There’s a hint that she’s been used by a greater power to accomplish some mysterious goal, but the revelation of what’s going on is not really interesting. The best part of this arc is Saturn Queen’s imperious behavior, and her ally Lightning Lord chafing at taking orders from her.
  8. Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet go on holiday (#6, Annual #1): I guess some fans enjoy seeing the Legion’s lesbian couple, but since their heterosexual relationships of years past were the subjects of two of my favorite Legion stories, I’m not one of them. Still, the Annual, with the return of the Emerald Empress, and a check-in with Sensor Girl’s medieval homeworld, was one of the most entertaining issues of the series.
  9. Mon-El becomes Legion leader (#8, 10-16): Potentially an interesting story, especially since he and Shadow Lass have broken up and he seems adrift in his life, but it gets subsumed by the LSV storyline, and he becomes a Green Lantern too which additionally dilutes the story. Really a lost opportunity to work with the character, much as the Durlan assassins story was a lost opportunity to work with Chameleon Boy’s character.
  10. Star Boy returns (#11-16): Having been in a pointless exile in the 20th century for the last few years, Star Boy returns and somehow is a component in revealing the secret of Professor Li. Pretty much everything involving Star Boy and Legionnaires in the 20th century has been a storytelling disaster, and even thought this is a small piece of the series, I’m still scratching my head over why Levitz wasted pages on this. (And why is he wearing the stupid half-mask for much of the story, when he’s back with his friends in the 30th century, who all know who he is?)

So the stories didn’t work in two ways: Some of them were too diffuse, so it was difficult to keep track of what was happening in them, and some of them were too long, like the seemingly-endless throwdown with the Legion of Super-Villains (let’s fight this guy, now let’s fight this guy, now these guys, now these guys, and now let’s have a couple of big battles with everyone). I was not a fan of the Great Darkness Saga which was the keynote story of Levitz’ previous run, but at least it was a focused story in 5 issues, steadily building to its climax. But this series just thrashes around without seemingly knowing what it’s trying to accomplish or where it’s going. It was less than the sum of its parts.

The series also had the annoying gimmick of introducing every single character, every single issue, with their name, homeworld, and powers. It’s a crutch which quickly gets distracting. The Legion has decades of stories without this schtick, and it’s not like characters with names like “Sun Boy” and “Lightning Lass” really need this crutch.

To be sure, the art by the two main pencillers, Cinar and Francis Portela, is terrific, and almost makes the series worth reading by itself. (Cinar is pencilling the upcoming Firestorm series, and I’m going to pick it up mainly because of him.) But the stories, despite having promise, were just very poorly executed. Juggling the Legion’s large cast has chewed up plenty of writers, but keeping it simple and making the stories manageable, or focusing on just a few characters at a time, is usually the key. Levitz seems to have completely lost his touch in this regard, and the end of this series is a good time for me to stop buying the book until a writer whose work I’m more interested in comes on board.

This Week's Haul

  • Astro City: The Dark Age vol 2 HC, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Batman Beyond #5 of 6, by Adam Beechen, Ryan Benjamin & John Stanisci (DC)
  • Batman and Robin #15, by Grant Morrison & Frazer Irving (DC)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #6 of 10, by Len Wein, Scott Kolins, Jerry Ordway, George Pérez, Scott Koblish, Keith Giffen & Al Milgrom (DC)
  • Fables #99, by Bill Willingham & Inaki Miranda (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #53, by Tony Bedard, Tyler Kirkham & Batt (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #6, by Paul Levitz, Francis Portela, Phil Jimenez, Scott Koblish, Yildiray Cinar & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Power Girl #17, by Judd Winick & Sami Basri (DC)
  • Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier #4 of 4, by Ed Brubaker & Dale Eaglesham (Marvel)
  • Morning Glories #3, by Nick Spencer & Joe Eisma (Image)
  • The Sixth Gun #5, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)
I was rather perplexed at the end of the previous issue of Batman Beyond, but this issue does a fine job in clearing up my confusion, and making sense of the identity of the new Hush – he’s a clone of Dick Grayson, the same way Terry McGinnis is a clone of Bruce Wayne. Part of the problem is that Ryan Benjamin and John Stanisci’s art is often not very clear, trying to look a little like the cartoon series but with a heavy dose of latter-day Frank Miller in their style (which in my opinion is not a good thing). In this issue they draw Hush in a strong Miller-esque style, which makes his emotions and identity very difficult to read. It just seems sloppy, really.

(Although, I wonder if the Miller-like art is an homage to The Dark Knight Strikes Again, in which an older Bruce Wayne deals with a psychotic Dick Grayson. The parallel is passingly interesting, but since TDKSA was basically self-indulgent drek, it’s not really a selling point for this series.)

The series has been something of a mixed bag, but ultimately it’s been fun despite its flaws. I look forward to the wrap-up next month.

That cover has almost nothing to do with the latest issue of Legion of Super-Heroes, just a couple of pages where people talk about the fact that Shadow Lass slept with Earth-Man (is she not still with Mon-El? How confusing). But otherwise it features two stories, one mostly involving moving characters around (Levitz loves writing these little in-between bits which don’t really advance the plot), and the other featuring members of the Legion Academy. It’s a filler issue.

But then there’s the last page:

So whom should I vote for in the Legion leader election? Element Lad’s always been my favorite – except I can’t stand his pink costume, especially since it replaced the excellent Dave Cockrum-designed blue-and-green one. Among the candidates, I think I’d go with either Mon-El or Dawnstar.

Steve Rogers: Super-Soldier wraps up with a nifty confrontation between Steve and Machinesmith, and a neat coda which puts a rather different spin on the rest of the series, leaving our hero confused as to what exactly was going on. As with Brubaker’s Captain America run, this has been quite good. But it kind of underscores that Steve Rogers really needs to be Cap; Bucky has been a decent fill-in, but it’s becoming clear that he doesn’t have the temperament or skills to really be Cap, that his road leads elsewhere.

With “The Trial of Captain America” right around the corner, I hope these points get handled over the next year.

This Week's Haul

  • Batman Beyond #2 of 6, by Adam Beechen, Ryan Benjamin & John Stanisci (DC)
  • Brightest Day #6, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Scott Clark, Joe Prado, Vicente Cifuentes, David Beaty, Mark Irwin & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #3 of 10, by Len Wein, Scott Kolins, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez & Dave Gibbons (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #41, by James Robinson, Mark Bagley & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #3, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar, Francis Portela & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Power Girl #14, by Judd Winick & Sami Basri (DC)
  • Time Masters: Vanishing Point #1 of 6, by Dan Jurgens & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Zatanna #3, by Pail Dini & Stephane Roux (DC)
  • Dynamo 5: Sins of the Father #2 of 5, by Jay Faerber & Júlio Brilha (Image)
Well, now I know the answer to my question last time about how DC Universe: Legacies was going to bridge the gap between the golden age heroes retiring in the early 1950s, and the fact that the modern heroes – given that they’re between 25 and 45 years of age today in 2010 – couldn’t have become active until about 1990 (or later): This isn’t taking place in the regular DC Universe (despite the title), because Superman and the rest of the Justice League come on the scene in the 1950s and 60s, complete with fashions appropriate for the era (courtesy of the always-great Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez on pencils, although Dave Gibbons – himself a terrific artist – is perhaps not the most sympathetic inker for him).

The story is continuing to focus on our everyman hero, Paul, who’s now an adult and has joined the police force, inspired by his mystery-men heroes, and it’s a pretty good one, although still a step down from the same sorts of material that Kurt Busiek has done in this area. (Frankly it’s impossible not to compare stories of this sort to Kusiek’s Marvels and Astro City because Busiek has done the most and the best work in this territory. I’m sure I’ll do it again.) How Len Wein will cover heroes in the modern age, or the aging of these silver age heroes, remains to be seen. Is he ambitious enough to make it all hang together into a sensible whole, or is he just going to ignore little details like character ages (even as the main character does age)?

Now I remember one of the things that drove me nuts about Paul Levitz’ 1980s Legion of Super-Heroes series: He just can’t stick to a single main story in each issue much of the time. In these first three issues we’ve had:

  1. Earth-Man, the speciesist leader of the former regime, is forced into the Legion as a compromise between the new government and his supporters.
  2. He’s given a Green Lantern ring by a mysterious remnant of the Guardians of the Universe, and finds (in this issue) that that power comes with a price – responsibility for nonhuman sentients.
  3. The moon Titan is destroyed, and the mind controlling Saturn Queen takes over several Legionnaires running disaster relief in its wake.
  4. Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl’s twin sons disappear and they chase after them in a time bubble.

The problem is that each of these threads has been given more-or-less equal time in each of the first three issues, which means that none of those issues has been truly memorable; they’ve been a hodge-podge of fragments of stories (mixed in with some single-page asides of yet more plot threads, such as some Durlan shapeshifters arriving on Earth on a mysterious mission in this issue). I guess lots of Legion fans like this soap-operatic approach to serial comics, but I can’t stand it. It’s one reason I’ve tended to think of Levitz as a second-tier writer. Compare him to one of his contemporaries, Marv Wolfman: Wolfman’s New Teen Titans also dealt with multiple plot threads, but for the first four years of the title most issues had a primary story, with maybe a few pages devoted to some forward-looking plot threads. Not everything worked, but individual issues clearly had particular stories. Levitz’ Legion writing meanders all over the place, occasionally converges on a big story, but often with very little build-up, as if he said to himself, “Hey! It’s time for an epic story!” and wrote one up. While it does take skill to keep these balls in the air, I think at a fundamental level it’s sloppy writing.

On the bright side, I’m pretty happy with how Yildiray Cinar’s art is shaping up, as he’s getting more comfortable with the characters, and the expressions look more genuine. The new costumes are generally pretty good, although taking yet more fabric away from Shadow Lass’ outfit and adding awkward cleavage to Sensor Girl’s are rather awkward changes. I also still hate Element Lad’s pink outfit – can we have the nifty green-and-blue one he wore in the late 70s back, please?

So here’s my problem with Judd Winick’s Power Girl after two issues: He’s already resorted to the hoary old chestnut of having her company taken over by creditors, and having her deal with a rampaging menace while her other self has to deal with those issues in her personal life. It’s been done over and over (heck, seeing it done to the golden age Green Lantern in All-Star Comics was a memorable moment in my childhood comics in the 70s, since it led into one of the series’ best stories), and it’s just plain tired and old at this point. I know my main criticism of the Gray and Palmiotti’s run on the title is that it was too lightweight and frivolous and that I wanted to see more of PG in her secret identity, but this isn’t at all what I had in mind. I was thinking more that we’d see her being a successful businesswoman and make some genuinely interesting discoveries running a high-tech firm. But she hasn’t even had the company long enough for tearing it down to have any emotional impact on the read.

If this is a sign of things to come, then I bet predictions of Winick’s run coming to a quick end will come to pass.

It must be great to be Dan Jurgens: He’s been working in comics books for 25 years, and he’s gotten to write and draw plenty of the big guns (Superman, for example), while also being able to play with his own creations, such as Booster Gold. Time Masters: Vanishing Point is essentially Jurgens’ continuation of his recent Booster Gold series, but he gets to play with some of the big guns – Superman and Green Lantern – while essentially writing a shadow series to Grant Morrison’s Batman: Return of Bruce Wayne series. Booster, Rip Hunter, Superman and GL are all stuck in the 15th century looking for the time-lost Batman, while some time-traveling villains try to capture one of Rip’s lab (being foiled by Booster’s allies).

I don’t expect Jurgens will be given license to have much impact on what happens to Batman here, but I do expect it will be a fun little series focusing on its principal characters, especially Rip and Booster. Jurgens has his flaws as both a writer and an artist, but his stuff is almost always inventive and fun, and this one’s off to a good start.

This Week's Haul

  • Adventure Comics #526, by Paul Levitz, Kevin Sharpe & Marlo Alquiza, and Jeff Lemire, Mahmud A. Asrar & John Dell (DC)
  • Astro City Special: Silver Agent #1 of 2, by Kurt Busiek, Brent Anderson & Alex Ross (DC/Wildstorm)
  • The Brave and the Bold #35, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • Superman #701, by J. Michael Straczynski, Eddy Barrow & J.P. Mayer (DC)
  • The Unwritten #15, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • Echo #23, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Age of Reptiles: The Journey #4 of 4, by Ricardo Delgado (Dark Horse)
  • The Mystery Society #2, by Steve Niles & Fiona Staples (IDW)
  • Chew #12, by John Layman & Rob Guillory (Image)
  • The Sixth Gun #1 & #2, by Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt (Oni)
Okay, I get the idea (after all of 2 issues): Adventure Comics is going to have little stories about the Legion of Super-Heroes past (well, relative to the regular Legion comic). This is too trivial for me to care about, especially since the Paul Levitz Legion has never been all that to me. (The Jim Shooter Legion it ain’t.) This issue especially annoys me because I’m dreadfully tired of Brainiac 5 being portrayed as essentially a cranky old Vulcan. I also loathe the faux-Russian speech mannerisms of the Legion’s late benefactor R.J. Brande here. Bad stuff.

This issue also had an Atom back-up that lost me after about 2 pages.

This series isn’t worth bothering with, so I’ll be sticking to the main series from here on out.

On the other hand, the new Astro City is a 2-parter focusing on the Silver Agent. The Agent was introduced early in the series via a statue of the man with the words “To Our Eternal Shame” on the plaque. We saw more of him in The Dark Age as his fate marked the end of the silver age in Astro City and the beginning of that dark age. But that wasn’t the end of the character.

In a nutshell, you could describe the premise of the character thus: What is Captain America were framed for murder, and was executed (with the public’s approval) before the truth came out? But what if just before the execution, he was rescued by the Legion of Super-Heroes, who pulled him forward to the future to help them in a war of their own? And what if he then had to weigh the decision to live the rest of his life in the future, or to return to meet the fate history had laid out for him?

That’s this issue (along with his origin). And it’s really good. The Dark Age felt like it meandered around too much, and this issue feels like it’s getting back the focus the series has otherwise always had. Next issue, well, I’m hoping Busiek and Anderson knock it out of the park, because it’s what we’ve been waiting for for a long, long time.

(And how awesome is the logo on the cover? It looks like it came right off a Marvel comic from the 1960s!)

Getting back to the chaff, J. Michael Straczynski’s The Brave and the Bold has been generally pretty bad, although seeing Jesus Saiz develop as an artist has been nice. But this issue is awful, as the Legion of Substitute Heroes and the Inferior Five “team up” to try to save the world – from the same menace the Legion of Super-Heroes and the Doom Patrol saved it from last issue, explaining a few mysteries from last issue. It’s supposed to be funny, but it’s anything but. It’s actually rather embarrassing. I’m not really sure why people think the Subs are best used as comical figures, since every attempt to write a funny story with them has been just awful. They were used much better in Geoff Johns’ “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes” story a couple of years back. Sure, they’re second-stringers, but in a sense that just means they have to try harder. Making fun of them is, well, no fun at al. As for the Inferior Five, well, if ever there was a joke whose time has long since passed, they’re it.

I don’t think I can stand any more of this series, so I’m hitting the eject button.

In a way it’s too bad, because the first year of this series, by Mark Waid and George Pérez, was excellent (especially the first 6 issues), but it really went downhill quickly after that. Nothing really memorable other than the Green Lantern/Spectre issues, which were enjoyable enough.

And speaking of J. Michael Straczynski, Superman #701 is the real first chapter of his series “Grounded”. Superman doesn’t entirely stay on the ground, but he walks across the country to interact with people on their level. It’s basically full of Straczynski clichés: The slightly-too-sentimental rescues, the humor that fails badly, the out-of-place and rather tedious philosophical asides. It’s not quite as bad as all that, but it feels downright trivial, and very much unlike a Superman story. As I said last month, I don’t think Straczynski really gets superhero comics, since none of his really seem to work (other than The Twelve, in which the fact that the characters were superheroes was almost incidental to the story).

The story will need to shift in tone sharply next issue, because this premise as depicted here just doesn’t have legs (so to speak).

John Cassaday’s cover has been getting a lot of favorable reviews, but I think he’s done much better work. The composition is nothing special, and it looks like there’s something wrong with Supes’ head and neck.

A larger disappointment has been the new Age of Reptiles mini-series. The first two series were great stuff, telling actual stories about dinosaurs without anthropomorphizing them too much (just enough to make them a little more sympathetic – or not – to the readers). You could argue that Ricardo Delgado framed everything to make a story out of it.

But The Journey has been more a series of vignettes, without an actual story. Or if there was one, then it was too subtle or too buried for me to pick up on it. So although lavishly illustrated, it hasn’t been a very satisfying read. I got to the end of this issue and scratched my head wondering exactly what the point was. Okay, drawing dinosaurs may be a point in itself, but really this was a big letdown compared to the first two series.


Finally, The Sixth Gun premiered as a Free Comic Book Day giveaway, and the first two issues both came out this week. (The first issue is essentially identical to the FCBD issue.) It’s quite good, being a supernatural horror story set in the old west: An old Confederate general is raised from the grave (if he ever really went there in the first place) and wants his gun back. But his gun is bonded to the daughter of the man who stole it from him, and she’s being spirited away by one of the General’s former posse, whose motivations are still murky.

There’s violence, mayhem, dark magic, ghosts, and all kinds of good stuff, and Brian Hurtt’s art is excellent, expressive and nuanced despite his fundamentally simple style. Overall this is a nice package and a fun read. I’m looking forward to more.

This Week's Haul

If not for Atomic Robo, it would have been an all-DC week for me!

  • American Vampire #3, by Scott Snyder, Stephen King & Rafael Albuquerque (DC/Vertigo)
  • Brightest Day #2, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Ivan Reis, Patrick Gleason, Ardian Syaf, Scott Clark, Joe Prado, Vicente Cifuentes, Tom Nguyen, Rebecca Buchman & David Beaty (DC)
  • Ex Machina #49, by Brian K. Vaughan & Tony Harris (DC/Wildstorm)
  • DC Universe: Legacies #1 of 10, bu Len Wein, Andy Kubert, Joe Kubert, Scott Kolins & J.G. Jones (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #1, by Paul Levitz, Yildiray Cinar & Wayne Faucher (DC)
  • Zatanna #1, by Paul Dini, Stephane Roux & Karl Story (DC)
  • Atomic Robo and the Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #3 of 4, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
I’m a sucker for stories featuring the original Justice Society members, so despite the goofy logo (which looks like the early-80s Legion of Super-Heroes logo) and the wacky perspective on Doctor Fate on that cover, I picked up DC Universe: Legacies #1 anyway. Writer Len Wein has been writing comics since the late 1960s, but he’s never really been associated with the JSA before, and honestly though he’s done some noteworthy work (he co-created the Swamp Thing and the “new” X-Men, for instance), his actual stories have never rocked my world. So I expected a decent enough story but nothing that I’d rave about.

The first story in this issue met those expectations, being a somewhat contrived story about a pair of boys working for various crooks in the late 30s, one of whom wants to get deeper into the criminal life, while the other one starts to idolize the mystery men popping up around the country and has second thoughts. They have a close encounter with Sandman and The Atom (and Sandman certainly feels very weird here after reading his less athletic adventures in Sandman Mystery Theatre) which feels a little too rah-rah from heroes to kids, to me. And the issue ends with the tone of a cliffhanger as to what the kids will do, although it’s pretty clear how it will turn out.

The second story, though, is much better: It involves a reporter looking into escapades of Doctor Fate and the Spectre around the same time, and being deeply skeptical of mystical heroes doing the impossible, and even uncovers evidence of fraud in their exploits. As a window on how the average man might have thought of genuine superpowered heroes when they first emerged, it’s actually quite clever and to the point.

As a whole the first issue of Legacies doesn’t equal the better “man-in-the-street” superhero comics like those by Kurt Busiek, and I don’t really know why it’s called “Legacies” from this issue (it just seems like an excuse to tell some period stories with the JSA), but overall it’s a solid first issue, with good art by the Kuberts and by J.G. Jones. With a 10 issue run, I’ll probably stick around for the whole thing.

Perhaps the most beloved era of the long-running series Legion of Super-Heroes was Paul Levitz’ run – mostly with Keith Giffen and Greg LaRocque – in the 1980s.

Beloved by many, perhaps, but not by me. With a few exceptions (mainly the earliest Giffen issues and the gorgeous art of Steve Lightle between Giffen and LaRocque), I found the whole thing rather cynical and depressing. Characters were altered for no good reason beyond recognizability (Timber Wolf, for instance, had been a heroic and tragic figure, but became a rather stupid Wolverine clone), were killed to no good effect (offing Karate Kid was one of the stupidest deaths in comics history, with no emotional impact whatsoever), wore some awful costumes (Element Lad’s nifty blue-and-green outfit was replaced by a pink outfit even worse than his original one), and the team gradually spiraled downwards from heroic figures in an exciting future world to one of death, destruction, grisly politics, and pyrrhic victories. (Keith Giffen then punctuated this after Levitz left with his grim “Five Years Later” stories.)

Compared to the Legion stories of the 60s and 70s – some of which were written by Levitz in his first go-round on the title – it was pretty weak and depressing stuff.

Now, after two reboots, the original Legion is back (thanks to Geoff Johns’ story “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes”) and in their own series, with Levitz returning for his third run, having recently stepped down from being President and Publisher of DC. A good thing?

One interesting twist is that it appears the events of the series after Levitz’ second run have been retconned to not have happened. Levitz writes a text piece at the end of this first issue where he explains that out understanding of the Legion’s era is constantly changing and some stories told in the past may have been inaccurate, or not have happened. It’s not only unusual, it’s a tacit admission by DC that the reboots of the last 20 years have been failures of approach as well as of substance, that they never captured the essence of what was once one of DC’s most popular titles. But then, DC’s been on a big retro kick lately, so going back to the 80s characters and their 80s writer fits right in.

But is the story any good? Well, sort of. Earth is trying to rejoin the United Planets, and the Legion is trying to reestablish itself on Earth in the wake of the xenophobia fostered by Earth-Man and his gang of psychopaths in the aforementioned Superman story. The issue opens with Earth-Man being drained of his powers, but then we learn that Earthgov is going to require that Earth-Man become a Legionnaire if the Legion is going to stay on Earth. Meanwhile, Saturn Girl visits her homeworld of Titan (yes, the moon of Saturn), where the Time Institute has also established itself, but some of their researchers commit the inevitable crime of viewing the dawn of the universe, which results in the destruction of Titan, despite the Legion’s best effort. Saturn Girl takes one of the last time spheres to find her missing twin sons. And lastly, Earth-Man is confronted with a mysterious entity from Oa and offered membership in the Green Lantern Corps.

There’s a lot of stuff here, and some of it is interesting, while some of it feels gratuitious (the destruction of Titan feels pointlessly sadistic, much as the destruction of Vulcan did in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film) or nonsensical (Earth-Man’s recent history includes throwing aliens into concentration camps, which makes Earthgov forcing him on the Legion seem downright sick and completely implausible unless Levitz is going to show Earthgov to be completely corrupt). Not to mention that the Time Institute researchers really should have known better than to view the dawn of time, given the chaos that act has caused in the past. So the story is shaky, with character motivations that are frustrating at best. Not the best start.

The high point of the issue if Yildiray Cinar’s artwork (and, secondarily, his name!). While some of his panels are strangely simplistic in their renderings, others are compelling in their composition and detail, especially the ones involving Brainiac 5. His approach is a little rough, but he shows a lot of promise.

Writing the Legion has always been a tall order due to the size of its cast, its futuristic setting, and its tenuous link to the rest of the DC Universe. Unfortunately Levitz’ approach to the series has always felt to me like it robbed the Legion of their inherent fun and sense of scope, and this first issue doesn’t make me optimistic that the new series will be an improvement. I’m sure I’m in the minority among Legion fans, though, as I think this series does feel very much like Levitz’ last run on the title. Strange that after 20 years it feels like there’s so little difference, but then, Levitz hasn’t done a whole lot of writing (on the Legion or any other title) in that span, so perhaps that’s not very surprising.

It is disappointing, though. I’d much rather have the fun Legion of the 60s and 70s back. But I guess the reboots tried to do that and they weren’t very successful, either. But was that because they weren’t very good, or because they didn’t feel like the real Legion?

I’ve been a lukewarm towards Paul Dini’s comics in the past, but Zatanna – which debuts this week – is quite fun, if a bit brutal, as it involves evil wizards killing a group of mobsters in some particularly brutal ways. But it also sets up Zatanna as a sort of consulting detective to law enforcement where magic is concerned, and something of an enforcer to keep the evil wizards in line. Zee’s been portrayed in the past as a more above-board counterpart to John Constantine, so that role suits her. She feels maybe just a tad too mysterious here compared to her past portrayals, but one could argue that she’s also just grown up some more since her days with the JLA and Constantine. It’s a promising start to the series.

Stephane Roux’s art is excellent, ably supporting Dini’s story. His work is a little reminiscent of Alan Davis’ and even more so of Ryan Sook’s (perhaps not a coincidence, since Sook drew the Zatanna series in Seven Soldiers). I hope he sticks around for a while.

This Week's Haul

  • Adventure Comics #4, by Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek, and Michael Shoemaker & Clayton Henry (DC)
  • The Brave and the Bold #29, by J. Michael Straczynski & Jesus Saiz (DC)
  • The Flash: Rebirth #5 of 6, by Geoff Johns & Ethan Van Scyver (DC)
  • Outsiders #24, by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin, Scott Hanna & Prentis Rollins (DC)
  • Victorian Undead #1, by Ian Edginton & Davide Fabbri (DC/Wildstorm)
  • Hercules: Full Circle HC, by Bob Layton (Marvel)
  • Realm of Kings one-shot, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Leonardo Manco & Mahmud Asrar (Marvel)
  • Echo #16, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Irredeemable #8, by Mark Waid & Peter Krause (Boom)
  • Invincible #68, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Phonogram: The Singles Club #5 of 7, by Keiron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie (Image)
Adventure Comics #4 Two more books this week which tie in to DC’s Lantern ring giveaway. Adventure Comics was launched when the most recent Legion of Super-Heroes series came to an end. Its lead story features Superboy (the Connor Kent/Teen Titans version), and its backup features the Legion – the “classic” team which Geoff Johns reintroduced in Action Comics and Legion of 3 Worlds. I decided not to follow it along because I have no interest in this incarnation of Superboy.

Oddly, the lead story here is draw by Jerry Ordway, and not regular artist Francis Manapul, so as much as I like Ordway (although this isn’t his best stuff) it doesn’t give me any feeling for what the series has really been like. Plus, this issue doesn’t actually have much Superboy, but rather brings back Superman-Prime, the insufferable villain who finally got his comeuppance at the end of Legion of 3 Worlds. Honestly if I never see Prime again, it’ll be too soon.

The backup features two Legion characters who have been torn apart by the events of Lo3W, and getting back together with a little assistance from two other star-crossed lovers on the team. It’s a nice character story in its way, but it feels more like the beginning of a larger arc than just a backup tale. If Adventure Comics were all Legion, then it might be worth following, but just the backups isn’t enough to get me back on board.

Outsiders #24 Outsiders is the latest incarnation of the Mike W. Barr-penned Batman spin-off title from the 1980s, which was pretty mediocre stuff back then. This one seems more interesting, as the resurrected dead villain Terra seeks out her brother and – in a turnaround from how many of the resurrected heroes have been acting – can’t stand her new existence, and wants help in ending it. While this might be some sort of a bait-and-switch on Terra’s part, writer Peter Tomasi pulls it off pretty convincingly; the notion of what zombies think about being zombies is an often-overlooked facet of the genre. (Most of them don’t think, of course, but that’s not the case in the premise of Blackest Night.)

The other half of the story involves Katana being waylaid by her dead husband and children, and is more routine angst/combat stuff. But Fernando Pasarin’s pencils are quite good, making this a pretty solid read overall. The only downside is that it doesn’t give me – a new reader brought in via the ring giveaway – much orientation for who these Outsiders are, why they’re outsiders, or what their organization is like. But of all the Blackest Night tie-ins, this is the one I’m mostly like to give another shot.

Victorian Undead #1 Ian Edginton wrote the terrific Scarlet Traces about what happened to England and Earth after the defeat of the invaders in The War of the Worlds, so even though I’m suffering a bit of zombie exhaustion, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and check out Victorian Undead, which as you can see from the cover involves Sherlock Holmes and zombies (although contrary to the cover, Holmes is not himself a zombie). The premise is that a meteor shower in the 1850s led to the rise of zombies in London, and in the 1890s Holmes and Watson have to grapple with their emergence (or maybe return – the timeline is left deliberately blank as I expect it’s one of the mysteries to be explored in the series).

Edginton injects some serious steampunk – in the form of a humaniform robot – into Holmes’ milieu, on top of the zombies. This first issue is entirely set-up, with shadowy governmental figures trying to keep a lid on things. I’m sure we all know how well that will work. Whether or not we’ll see other Victorian-era icons, I don’t know. Davide Fabbri looks like a decent artist, although with just enough of overtones of an Image style (gratuitous lines, unnecessary flourishes) for me to not fully embrace his style. But overall the series gets off to a good start, if you can stand another zombie title. Hopefully Edginton has more in mind than just “Sherlock Holmes and zombies”, though, because I don’t think that’s enough to carry the series. Zombies, after all, have been done before.

Hercules: Full Circle premiere HC I gushed a few months ago about the first hardcover collection of Bob Layton’s Hercules mini-series from the 80s. This month we get the second collection, containing the “Full Circle” graphic novel which concludes the character’s story, plus a short story and a 3-part epilogue that I hadn’t read before.

Layton’s art seems more than a bit dated today, but some of the stuff he tries to put over on the reader is amusing just for its audacity (like the supporting character “Lucynda Thrust”), and it works completely as a lighthearted buddy story. I doubt it’d be for everyone’s taste, but I’ve always loved it.

Realm of Kings one-shot I was very reluctant to pick up anything related to Realm of Kings considering what a bust War of Kings was, but something made me buy this one-shot. I’m glad I did, because it’s a neat little story: Quasar goes through the rift opened at the end of the war, and ends up on a parallel Earth in which the Avengers have given themselves over to the Great Old Ones, and who are interested in extending their reach into Quasar’s universe. While an obvious twist on the whole Marvel Zombies thing, the notion of the superheroes corrupted into becoming dark magicians could have legs. Then again, maybe it would be less entertaining if stretched out too far.

Leonardo Manco does a great job drawing the corrupted Earth and its heroes, and Abnett and Lanning have fun with the dark heroes (“What the Ftaghn?” exclaims Ms. Marvel) and figuring out how to get Quasar back where he belongs. As one-shots go, this one’s a lot of fun. Whether or not any of the rest of Realm of Kings – a collection of mini-series – will be, I have no idea, but as they mostly feature characters I don’t care about (the Inhumans, the Imperial Guard), I doubt I’ll give it more than a passing glance. Wake me when the main heroes get involved.

Echo #16 It’s time to check back in on Terry Moore’s Echo. It’s been slow going, but the story has been gradually revealing itself. Our heroine, Julie, accidentally got covered with a metallic substance which gives her odd powers she can’t really control, mainly being able to shock people with an energy zap. The creators of the metal have been after her, including hiring a mercenary Ivy, to bring her in. Julie’s also encountered a man – apparently a vagrant – who also has some of the metal, resulting in destruction and some death when they meet. After being on the run for some time, Julie’s gone with Ivy – who’s turned on her bosses and also retrieved Julie’s mentally-disturbed sister Pam – and is hiding with her.

That’s a lot of story, but it hasn’t felt like that much while reading it. It’s mostly felt like a fairly routine chase/suspense story with the mystery of the metal lurking in the background. What seems to be revealed here is where the title “Echo” comes from, as Julie is wondering if she’s able to communicate with the last – and deceased – wearer of the metal, a woman named Annie. There are also indications that Julie’s role may take on messianic overtones.

I can’t say that Echo has been one of my favorite comics – the glacial pace made me drop Moore’s previous series, the popular Strangers in Paradise – but it’s been interesting. Whether it’s all worth it will depend on whether Moore is able to bring it all to a big finish, whenever that comes. After a fashion, Echo reminds me of Jeff Smith’s current series, RASL in its tone, suspenseful structure, and fantastic mystery. To his credit, Moore has been publishing Echo nearly monthly, which makes it easier to stay attached to. And I like how Moore’s art has developed better than the caricature-dominated art Smith brings to RASL.

It’s a little odd that after 16 issues Echo is still at the point where it has more potential and actuality. Hopefully over the next year Moore will kick it into gear and turn it into something unique and exciting. But it’s not quite there yet.

(By the way, the covers tend to be much more dramatic than the contents; Julie is not nearly the ass-kicking heroine she seems to be on the cover to the left.)

This Week's Haul

  • Batman and Robin #6, by Grant Morrison, Philip Tan & Jonathan Glapion (DC)
  • Batman/Doc Savage Special, by Brian Azzarello & Phil Noto (DC)
  • Booster Gold #26, by Dan Jurgens, Mike Norton & Norm Rapmund (DC)
  • Fables #90, by Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham, Steve Leialoha & Andrew Pepoy (DC/Vertigo)
  • Green Lantern Corps #42, by Peter J. Tomasi, Patrick Gleason, Rebecca Buchman & Tom Nguyen (DC)
  • JSA vs. Kobra #6 of 6, by Eric S. Trautmann, Don Kramer & Michael Babinski (DC)
  • R.E.B.E.L.S. #10, by Tony Bedard & Andy Clarke (DC)
  • The Unwritten #7, by Mike Carey & Peter Gross (DC/Vertigo)
  • B.P.R.D.: 1947 #5 of 5, by Mike Mignola, Joshua Dysart, Gabriel Bá & Fábio Moon (Dark Horse)
  • Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #8 of 8, by Mike Mignola & Duncan Fegredo (Dark Horse)
Batman and Robin #6 The second arc of Batman and Robin has taken some criticism due to the fairly extreme stylistic change from Frank Quitely (on the first arc) to Philip Tan (on this one). It is an extreme change, but I thought Tan was fine in issue #4; the problem is his style got progressively looser to the point where it’s actually rather grotesque in this issue. It’s still serviceable, but yeah, I can see where the complaints are coming from.

Then again, the story’s not much, either. The main villain, the Red Hood (a.k.a. Jason Todd, formerly Robin) is portrayed as a vicious counterpoint to Batman, although as a despised character who died and came back to life, it’s hard to care about his motivations. Another villain, Flamingo, shows up here to take out the Red Hood, until Batman and Robin show up to stop them both. It’s a perfect example of how Morrison seems to pack just too much into his stories at times, and Flamingo’s arrival undercuts the drama between Batman and the Hood, which was underdeveloped to start with.

So far, Batman and Robin has been more style than substance, with Morrison unable to properly develop his themes or his characters. In fits and starts he’s pulled together some interesting pieces, but hasn’t really used them effectively so far.

Batman/Doc Savage Special The Batman/Doc Savage special appears to be an introduction to something called “The First Wave”, which from the back of this issue seems to be an upcoming series by Brian Azzarello taking a group of pulp and golden age heroes and introducing them in a new setting, apparently in the present day, but with a mix of styles dating from the 1920s to today. So here we have Batman (at the beginning of his career) and Doc Savage (an established hero), to be joined later by The Avenger, The Spirit, Black Canary and the Blackhawks. I’ve always liked the notion of relaunching established characters in a different milieu, but this is perhaps not the set I’d have chosen. But Azzarello seems to write a lot of pulp-influenced stuff, and it’s his show, so here we have it.

This story involves Batman suspected of murder and Doc Savage coming to Gotham to bring him in. Batman wields a pair of guns (but not to kill), Doc uses his muscle, and the two of course come to a meeting of the minds by the end. Chris Sims’ critique of the story is mostly spot-on, although I disagree about Batman using guns, a facet of his character here that doesn’t bother me, although his wishy-washy use of them is annoying, I agree. Batman has always been a character who could use guns, but mostly hasn’t for various reasons depending on his interpretation. But Sims hits the nail on the head as far as the plot goes: It’s obvious, and dragged out. Additionally, the characters just aren’t very likeable, and Bruce Wayne in particular is portrayed in a very annoying manner (honestly I think the occasional “Bruce Wayne, airhead playboy” schtick that some writers drag out is just plain stupid, and not in the least funny).

So overall this is a pretty weak introduction of a fairly interesting series. But The First Wave will have to be a lot better than this to be worth reading.

JSA vs. Kobra #6 JSA vs. Kobra was a 6-issue miniseries which sort-of spun off from the JSA’s battles with the fictional terrorist organization Kobra from their previous regular series, which doesn’t really explain why it’s being published now. It also relates to Mr. Terrific being one of the leaders of Kobra’s good-guy opposite number, the spy organization Checkmate.

Other than the JSA, none of these organizations matters one whit to me, and the series doesn’t relate to the team’s current adventures at all. So why bother publishing this? And heck, why did I bother buying it?

It’s also not much good. Its plot strives to be a games-within-games match in which Kobra is playing several different angles at once (although to what end, I can’t figure out; if Kobra’s angling for world domination, they’re doing a crappy job of it), while the JSA tries to outmaneuver them. There’s some ongoing tension between the JSA’s co-leaders, Power Girl and Mr. Terrific, mainly over whether Terrific owes his loyalties to the JSA or to Checkmate (the latter of which has been infiltrated by Kobra spies), but it never feels very suspenseful and is resolved almost offhandedly.

Eric S. Trautmann’s script (he’s an author I’ve never heard of before this series) is pretty mechanical, and Don Kramer’s pencils are pretty but not very dynamic. He does seem to meet one of the main criteria for a JSA penciller, though, that being an ability to put Power Girl’s chest front-and-center:

JSA vs. Kobra #6 page 12

At the end of the series, Kobra has been defeated, but obviously will come back in the future. The JSA hasn’t managed to eradicate the group, and none of the JSAers have really had any satisfying story arcs. The whole thing is played very low key despite the high stakes.

If you enjoy superhero pseudo-spy yarns, then this might be for you. Everyone else, give it a pass.

R.E.B.E.L.S. #10 R.E.B.E.L.S. #10 is one of two Blackest Night ring giveaway tie-ins this week (the other being Booster Gold #26, a series I already buy regularly). R.E.B.E.L.S. is a revival of the 90s series, which was the successor to L.E.G.I.O.N., itself a 20th century version of Legion of Super-Heroes that was launched in 1989 when the Legion was struggling to work out its continuity. If that doesn’t sound like one of the least-necessary revivals ever, then I don’t know what is.

Tony Bedard is a decent superhero writer, and Andy Clarke (whose name is misspelled on the cover – way to go DC) has an interesting style reminiscent of Steve Dillon. But issue #10 drops us ring-acquiring drive-by readers into the middle of an on-going story involving the nominal heroes (leader Vril Dox is more of an anti-hero) teaming up with some long-time DC villains to fight an even bigger long-time villain, Starro the Conqueror, who’s been transformed into a rather different entity than his already-chilling original form. (By the way, you can see an homage to the original Starro in the always-entertaining webcomic Plan B.)

The Black Lanterns are almost perfunctory to this story, which focuses on Starro enlisting the aid of Dox’s even-more-super-intelligent son, backing the R.E.B.E.L.S. into a corner, although it looks like next issue will involve a fight between Dox and the Black Lantern version of a former member of the team, as the issue ends on a cliffhanger.

Still, in a book headlined by a rather despicable character, mostly featuring other C-listers I don’t really care about, I might pick up the next issue but this isn’t enough to make me sign on for the long haul, especially since I lost interest in the original version of this team over 15 years ago. (Don McPherson liked it better than I do, though.)

B.P.R.D.: 1947 #5 B.P.R.D.: 1947 was one of the best recent stories of this long-running series, but unfortunately 1948 doesn’t follow it up as strongly. Trevor Bruttenholm mostly stays on the sidelines, and the ultimate point of the story is to drive home to “Broom” that the department’s mission means he’ll be sending a lot of people out to their deaths, and can he live with that? This last issue is pretty good in that regard, but the first four, which focus on the mission in question, were pretty tedious, hamstrung by the fact that Broom stays at home the whole time.

I guess there will be a 1949 at some point, but since I expect to bail on B.P.R.D. after the long-running “War on Frogs” storyline concludes, I may not be around to see it.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #8 Similarly, while Hellboy generally has been stronger than B.P.R.D. over the years, The Wild Hunt has been one of his weakest series. Not only does the mythical Wild Hunt only put in a token appearance across 8 issues, but the story involves examining Hellboy’s surprising lineage, and an equally surprising – and, honestly, rather silly – development which comes to a head in this issue. It had me shaking my head, as Hellboy has always done best by staying away from popular mythology, and bring King Arthur into the mix as happens here feels very out-of-place for the series.

Hellboy is at his best when he’s an ass-kicking, wise-cracking fighter of larger-than-life mythical monsters, but over the years Mignola has shrunk that side of his character and expanded him being pulled through various scenarios in scenes that are more talking that action, and that’s a lot less fun. It’s like Mignola’s fundamentally lost touch with the character, and that’s too bad, because he’s one of the most memorable comics creations of the last 30 years.

This Week’s Haul

  • Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps #2 of 3, by Geoff Johns, Peter J. Tomasi, Eddy Barrows, Gene Ha, Tom Mandrake & Ruy José (DC)
  • Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5 of 5, by Geoff Johns, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • Green Lantern #44, by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke & Christian Alamy (DC)
  • Power Girl #3, by Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti & Amanda Conner (DC)
  • Wednesday Comics #3 of 12, by many hands (DC)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy #16, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wesley Craig & Nathan Fairbairn (Marvel)
  • The Incredible Hercules #131, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Ryan Stegman & Terry Pallot (Marvel)
  • Immortal Weapons #1 of 5, by Jason Aaron, Mico Suadan, Stefano Gaudiano, Roberto de la Torre, Khari Evans, Victor Olazaba, Michael Lark & Arturo Lozzi, and Duane Swierczynski, Travel Foreman & Stefano Gaudiano (Marvel)
  • Nova #27, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning & Andrea DiVito (Marvel)
  • Mouse Guard: Winter 1152 HC, by David Petersen (Archaia)
  • Atomic Robo: Shadow From Beyond Time #3 of 5, by Brian Clevinger & Scott Wegener (Red 5)
  • The Life and Times of Savior 28 #4, by J.M. DeMatteis & Mike Cavallaro (IDW)
  • Invincible #64, by Robert Kirkman & Ryan Ottley (Image)
  • Phonogram: The Singles Club #4 of 7, by Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, David LaFuente & Charity Larrison (Image)
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #5 Once again it seems like it’s an all-Geoff-Johns week, with two Green Lantern books and the long-delayed last issue of Legion of 3 Worlds.

At its core, Legion of 3 Worlds is a bunch of what’s today often called “fanboy wankery”: It seems to have been mainly written to reconcile the three incarnations of the Legion of Super-Heroes from the last 30 years, especially to bring the Legion of the early 80s back to being the primary Legion. All of this made for an entertaining romp through Legion history if you’re a Legion fan, but I imagine it’s largely meaningless if you’re not.

Secondarily the story both returned Superboy and Kid Flash to the Teen Titans, both of them having been dead for the last year or two. And lastly it plays out the story of Superboy-Prime, last survivor of Earth-Prime, who’s spent the last couple of years trying to get back to his destroyed homeworld, even if he had to destroy everything else to recreate it.

All of this is wrapped in what is seemingly a Superman story, but by this final issue Superman is pushed pretty firmly to the sidelines, little more than the muscle to hold off Prime until the Legionnaires figure out how to deal with him. The story is one escalating surprise (the Time Trapper is Prime in the future! Unless he’s not!) after another (when in doubt, summon more Legionnaires to do the punching) until things finally get resolved. Chris Sims sums up the irony of the resolution quite well, and honestly it is an entertaining story, with some witty dialogue (especially Brainiac 5’s parting shot), and of course the lovely George Pérez artwork.

I was a little let down by the ending, not so much where Prime ended up, but the fact that the story started out aiming very high by raising the question of whether Prime could be redeemed. The notion that Superman might actually be able to redeem him was morally fascinating, and a tough hill to climb. Unfortunately, it fell by the wayside pretty early and wasn’t picked up even a little in this final issue. While Johns may have redeemed Hal Jordan after his misdeeds as Parallax, he didn’t manage to do the same for Prime here. As it stands, Prime is one of the most badly-handled, least-necessary, and just-plain-un-fun villains in recent comics history, and I hope this is the last we see of him. What little potential he ever had has been well-and-truly explored by now.

All-in-all, a pretty good series. It could have been a lot more, and of course it had nothing at all to do with Final Crisis, despite the name. But you can’t have everything.

Wednesday Comics #3 Am I really going to review every issue of Wednesday Comics? At only a page of story per story per week, it hardly seems worth it. And yet, here I go.

I think what bugs me most about Kamandi is that it’s one teenaged kid – and anthropomorphic tigers, dogs, and rats. No matter how well drawn it is (and Ryan Sook’s art has progressed a lot since his Jenny Finn series for Mike Mignola a few years back) it’s just a strip about post-apocalyptic anthropomorphics. This premise’s sell-by date passed back when I was in grade school.

Oh my god, the Superman strip is just awful. Bad writing, bad artwork, just bad.

While Busiek is clearly having fun with the setting and characters of the Green Lantern strip, it seems like it’s been three pages of basically nothing so far. Indeed, the second and third pages have the same cliffhanger!

I find Wonder Woman to be unreadable: The panels are so dense it negates the benefits of the larger page size. And I find the story impenetrable. Plus, it doesn’t look like Wonder Woman at all! Teen Titans is only slightly better, although I don’t really care about these characters. And I liked the first page of Neil Gaiman’s Metamorpho, but since then it’s been to splash pages in a row. Talk about uncompressed! It’s got the opposite problem of Wonder Woman; neither has found the right balance of story and art for the format.

Flash is still the best strip in the book The art is a nice mix of realistic and cartoony, sort of like Ty Templeton’s. The story is both off-the-wall and moving. The structure is entertaining, too. It’s almost worth buying Wednesday Comics just for this.

It finally dawned on me that in Hawkman Kyle Baker is directly evoking the art of Sheldon Moldoff, who draw the hero in many of his earliest adventures in the 1940s (and whose style I suspect directly influenced that of Joe Kubert, who draw him later, and who draws the Sgt. Rock pages in Wednesday Comics). Despite largely liking the artwork, I still don’t care for the story or the portrayal of Hawkman here. I suspect this will be the second-biggest misfire of the series (after Superman).

Guardians of the Galaxy #16 This also seems to be all-Marvel week, as nearly every Marvel book I buy comes out on the same week these days, including the two ongoing space-based titles. Nova continues to be a very good book, but Guardians of the Galaxy has been thrashing around trying to find its direction. While Nova has the advantage of being primarily about one character, Guardians is about a team, and so it’s been more easily disrupted by the twice-yearly “events” throwing it off its ongoing story and preventing it from spending time exploring its characters. Which is too bad because the first three issues – prior to the intrusion of Secret Invasion – were very intriguing.

This month’s issue of Guardians is intriguing once more, as we learn something about why Major Victory showed up in the present day (coming back from the future), followed by a rather hostile Starhawk. We learn this because half of the team has been thrown into the future, where they meet the 31st-century Guardians (i.e., the original team created back in the 1970s), and learn that the universe is on the verge of coming to an end. The Guardians are based in the last remaining vestige of Earth – Avengers Mansion, floating in space behind a force field. Having the present-day team arrive in the mansion in its form as a historical museum is a neat moment, as is the revelation of what’s going on. Fortunately Starhawk seems to have learned that Warlock is going to do something which will eventually bring about the catastrophe. Unfortunately, there’s only a limited amount that they can do about it, but they give it their best shot, even if they have to die trying.

The issue ends on a big cliffhanger, with a plot worthy of some of Star Trek‘s time travel yarns (whether that’s good or bad is up to you). It looks like the story is heading for a big finish in the next month or two, in concert with War of Kings. Of course, Abnett and Lanning could milk it for a while longer, although at this point I think it would be best to get this arc resolved and to move on to the next one. Because the story’s got promise once more, and I’d hate to see them squander it.

This Week’s Haul

  • Adventure Comics #0, by Otto Binder & Al Plastino, and Geoff Johns & Francis Manapul (DC)
  • Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3 of 5, by Geoff Johns, George Pérez & Scott Koblish (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #118-124, by Greg Pak, Fred Van Lente, Rafa Sandoval, Clayton Henry, Roger Bonet & Salva Espin (Marvel)
  • The Boys #27, by Garth Ennis & Darick Robertson (Dynamite)
Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds #3 There’s not much I can say about Legion of 3 Worlds #3 that wasn’t said in much more detail over at Rokk’s Comic Book Revolution. Okay, I think he’s a little harsh on Geoff Johns’ like or dislike of the Legion, seeing animosity where I see more indifference and the limitations of Johns’ writing skills. But I agree that it feels like the Legion is little more than a backdrop in their own series.

I think an interesting comparison to this issue is the excellent Batman/Legion issue of The Brave and the Bold. Admittedly that features a smaller cast, but Mark Waid handles the characters deftly and gives a whole host of them a chance to shine in a single issue. Johns not only has to deal with three Legions, but throws in a Green Lantern, a Flash, and of course Superman and Superboy Prime. There’s so much going on here that not only does the Legion feel like it’s getting squeezed out, but everyone gets squeezed out, there’s just too much going on and the emotional center of the story (Superman’s notion of redeeming Prime) has gotten buried.

(As a pet peeve, I’m really frustrated by the cold and brusque character of Brainiac 5, one of many developments in the 80s Legion I didn’t care for, as someone who grew up reading the 70s Legion and back issues of the 60s Legion, where he was a more nuanced character. In Mark Waid’s reboot of the team I found it easier to swallow – he was a new character – but in the ‘classic’ Brainiac 5 it rankles. On the other hand, I do find the bickering between the other two Brainiacs amusing.)

The issue holds together to the extent it does thanks to the ever-wonderful artwork of George Pérez, who may be the only artist in comics who can both draw such a huge cast of characters and compose panels and pages to keep everything moving along. And his covers are gorgeous and clever.

Hopefully this is just “middle issue plot development hell” and the last two issues will be better (the first two issues were). And that Johns will return the focus to the Legion. Although the last page – bringing back a character who seems to scare Prime for reasons I honestly cannot fathom – doesn’t inspire a lot of hope. But, we’ll see.

(Incidentally, this week’s Adventure Comics #0 – cover price only $1.00! – reprints the Legion’s first appearance from the 1950s, and has a short back-up which I guess will lead into the Legion’s next re-launch. Not essential reading, but for a buck, how bad can it be?)

The Incredible Hercules #124 I caught up on The Incredible Hercules this week (well, nearly; somehow I missed #125, which apparently just came out), but unfortunately it was a little disappointing. Hercules is still an interesting character, but Amadeus Cho was portrayed as more hormonal teenager than as flawed super-genius, which made him more of a cliche and a lot less interesting. His flirtations with the Amazonian villains in the latest story arc, “Love and War”, felt particularly out of character.

Consequently Hercules is turning into more of a traditional superhero comic- albeit with a variety of gods running around – when it feels like it could have been something different and more interesting. I liked the notion of it being Cho and Hercules against, well, everyone, and maybe with the ambiguity that it wasn’t clear whether they were doing the right thing.

Still, the writing is witty and the art is good. I think if they could turn Cho back into a serious character, it’d be a much better book all around.

This Week’s Haul

A pretty big haul this week (well, last week now): Two series come to an end, I start catching up on a third series I missed out on, and one of my favorite web comics gets collected. Let’s jump in:

  • Final Crisis #7 of 7, by Grant Morrison, Doug Mahnke, & various inkers (DC)
  • Justice Society of America #23, by Geoff Johns, Jerry Ordway & Bob Wiacek (DC)
  • Legion of Super-Heroes #50, by “Justin Thyme”, Ramon Bachs & Livesay (DC)
  • The Incredible Hercules #112-117, by Grek Pak, Fred Van Lente, Khoi Pham, Rafa Sandoval, Paul Neary & Roger Bonet (Marvel)
  • Marvels: Eye of the Camera #3 of 6, by Kurt Busiek & Jay Anacleto (Marvel)
  • Nova #21, by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning, Wellington Alves & Scott Hanna (Marvel)
  • Echo #9, by Terry Moore (Abstract)
  • Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation vol 1 HC, by Tom Siddell (Archaia)
  • Mister X: Condemned #2 of 4, by Dean Motter (Dark Horse)
  • The Umbrella Academy: Dallas #3 of 6, by Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá (Dark Horse)
Final Crisis #7 It’s no secret that I think DC’s latest big event series, Final Crisis, has been a complete disaster. It started off with some promising elements, but then not only went off the rails in terms of plot and characterization (or lack of characterization), but worst of all, it’s been unrelentingly boring, devoid of either action or of the intriguing new ideas which are usually Grant Morrison’s stock-in-trade. So it’s something of a relief that the final issue came out this week, and I can now turn around and try to sell the pile of cow flop on eBay.

That said, this issue opens with what is easily the best scene in the series: The President of the United States – a black man – is ending a meeting with his advisors, and then heads off for a mission in his other job – as the Superman of his (alternate) world. It’s the natural extension of photos like this one, and it’s quite well done here.

Anyway, to recap the series: After a war in heaven which the New Gods lost, Darkseid has taken over the Earth, and himself been reborn in the body of police officer Dan Turpin. Half the world’s population is enslaved to him, including many superheroes. The rest of humanity is fighting to overthrow him, including Nix Uotan, a fallen Monitor of the many worlds. Superman returns from an extradimensional adventure to find Batman dead, but not before the darknight detective fatally wounded Darkseid. In this issue, the two Flashes (Wally West and a resurrected Barry Allen) lead death (in his guise as the Black Racer) to finish off Darkseid, at which point the dark Monitor Mandrakk appears to finish off the forces of good.

The series started off slow, with quick scenes full of portentiousness. It wasn’t a strong start, but it suggested that the various pieces would come together into a coherent narrative, and that just never happened. The last issue has a few extended scenes, but is still very choppy, with short scenes which never manage to convey the gravity the story strives for.

As many have observed, the general direction of the story is reminiscent of Morrison’s own story from JLA, “Rock of Ages”, in which a few members of the team end up in a future in which Darkseid has conquered the world. That story was more dramatic, faster-paced, and much more tense than Final Crisis ever reaches. Final Crisis stretches itself too thin, divorcing the reader from any emotional impact of the story, taking us too far from the characters that we never really get to know any of them or what they’re thinking.

And really, there’s no reason for the unusual approach to the storytelling: The ideas in Final Crisis are pretty pedestrian; there’s not much here we haven’t seen before, which is unusual since for most of his career Morrison’s strongest asset has been that he’s an “ideas guy”, throwing out interesting stuff which feels out-of-place in superhero comics, but integrating it well enough to make it engaging. This series has been the opposite: Ordinary superhero comic-book ideas told in an unorthodox manner which doesn’t service the ideas or the story at all well, making every aspect of the story feel clumsy and ultimately pointless. (You’d think that gathering the Supermen from every parallel world would qualify as neat stuff, but Alan Moore did it earlier and better in Supreme, so no.)

Speaking of pointless, so many details of the story feel pointless: Why was Barry Allen (the Silver Age Flash) brought back from the dead? He serves no meaningful role in the story; I assume it’s because DC editorial wanted to re-launch him in a new Flash series. Why bother with Mandrakk at all? He’s a bigger villain behind the big villain, but his presence seems a tacit admission that Darkseid just isn’t a big enough villain (which, frankly, I’ve known for years, but I’ve always thought Kirby’s DC characters fell somewhere between silly and stupid). Heck, why bring the Monitors into it at all, when their role in the story was marginal at best? Why bother with the teasing narrative at the start of this issue as if a few survivors of telling the story of the fall of Earth?

Brian Hibbs argues that the problem with the series is that it was positioned as the culmination of DC big boss Dan DiDio‘s tenure at the head of the universe, and that the expectations built up around the series aren’t really Morrison’s fault. But I think the story fails on its own merits, and while editorial usually deserves some blame for that, Morrison deserves a healthy portion himself. It started off weak and stayed weak, and I think it fell down in every aspect of storytelling: Ambition, plot, direction, purpose, characterization, dialogue. It did have a few moments that stood out – Barry being reunited with his wife, the President Superman opener in this issue – but they were few indeed.

Is Final Crisis the worst event series DC has ever done? Of course not: Millennium, at least, was much worse, and there are others you could make a case as being the worst. But Final Crisis was bad. Surprisingly bad, given the talent who worked on it. Morrison’s writing has always been hit-or-miss, but you could usually count on him to at least wow you with his out-there ideas and presentation thereof, but there was little of that here.

I wish we could stop with all the Big Event silliness and just get back to telling good stories. Or at least fun stories. This was neither.

Legion of Super-Heroes #50 Just over a year ago I was pretty excited about Jim Shooter‘s return to Legion of Super-Heroes. Shooter’s run – and the current series – come to an end this week, four issues sooner than Shooter had planned his story to run. This final issue is written by the obviously-pseudonymous “Justin Thyme”, which might be Shooter (using the name in the same way Harlan Ellison used Cordwainer Bird), or maybe Shooter just left and DC got someone else to write the final issue. The pencils are by Ramon Bachs rather than regular penciller Francis Manapul (though Manapul did the cover), suggesting that the whole series just fell apart at an editorial level at the end. (Blaming this on editor Mike Marts might not be fair; it seems like he had to pilot the series through a series of land mines just to get it this far, what with Shooter’s tensions within the industry, and the seeming irrelevance of the series once Legion of 3 Worlds kicked off.)

The issue certainly feels awkward and rushed: Shooter set up the idea of creatures living in a virtual reality running on the hardware of the universe itself invading the “real” universe for their own inscrutable reasons, which frankly is a pretty cool idea. This issue reveals their reasons (which are pretty pedestrian) and provides a straightforward solution to the problem, as indicated in the issue’s title, “Hack the Infinity Net!” Naturally there’s a lot of punching and shooting along the way, which seems out-of-place for a fight with a virtual enemy, and the notion that even Brainiac 5 can take down a whole virtual reality which has existed for millennia when no one else has before strains credulity. If this is the ending Shooter envisions all along – albeit compressed from 5 issues down to 1 – then it’s even more disappointing.

(The official promo for the issue states that it features the return of Cosmic Boy and the death of a longtime Legionnaire, neither of which happens, which makes me think that Shooter didn’t actually write the issue. More speculation about this at Comics Bulletin and Lying in the Gutters, plus comments from Francis Manapul on absence from the issue at Legion World.)

Shooter’s run lasted for 14 issues, and overall I was disappointed by it. He attempted to make the characters sound hip through newly-coined words and clever dialogue. The characterizations felt strained and unnatural, sometimes even embarrassing, and Lightning Lad’s term as leader seemed marked with one bad decision after another, a path the character’s gone down in earlier incarnations. Managing a huge cast like the Legion has is difficult, and in past decades writers have done so by cutting it down to a few members per issue (an approach which resulted in many memorable stories written by Shooter himself). That approach seems to be out of favor these days, but I don’t think dealing with the whole ensemble cast at once played to Shooter’s strengths. The invasion plot line itself had some interesting points, but it felt like it dragged on and periodically faded to the background in favor of the awkward character bits.

I kept wanting to like the series, but it never clicked for me, and there were many times when I cringed at the writing. And while Francis Manapul is a distinctive artist, his style isn’t really to my taste. I can see some of what Shooter was trying to do here, and I appreciate that he had the rug pulled out from under him at the end, but ultimately it wasn’t a successful run, as the story muddled around too much and often just wasn’t very fun.

The Incredible Hercules #112 When Greg Pak ended his run on The Incredible Hulk a year ago, at the conclusion of World War Hulk, Marvel did a couple of interesting things: First, it launched a new Hulk series with the “red Hulk”, written by Jeph Loeb. Second, it continued the old series with Pak as writer (partnered with Fred Van Lente), but retitled it The Incredible Hercules. The premise was that Amadeus Cho, the teenager who’s the “seventh-smartest person in the world” gets together with Hercules (the Greek god who’s also a member of the Avengers) and they have adventures in the post-Civil War Marvel Universe. I was intrigued by the red Hulk story and couldn’t care less about Amadeus Cho and Hercules, so I decided to pick up the former series and drop the latter series.

A year later, as Hulk meanders around aimlessly while Hercules has been getting good word-of-mouth on-line, I feel like I picked the wrong party. And really I should have known better: I’ve always been lukewarm towards Jeph Loeb’s writing, while Greg Pak’s run on Hulk was a lot of fun, engaging, and full of interesting character bits.

Note to self: When deciding which series to buy, always follow the creative talent, not the characters. (And, dammit, I knew that already.)

Fortunately, it’s rarely too late to make up for such a mistake in the comics biz, so this week I picked up the first six issues of The Incredible Hercules, and as I should have guessed they’re fun, engaging, and full of interesting character bits. Hercules is portrayed as being more canny and reasonable than he has been in the past, only smashing things up when his older brother Ares infects him with hydra venom. Cho is just as clever and calculating as he’s been in the past, but intent on bringing down SHIELD almost as much to just have a challenge as to punish the organization responsible for (or at least for enforcing) many of the reprehensible things going on in the Marvel Universe these days.

There are many flashbacks to Hercules’ adventures in Greek myth, showing the stories to be of varying degrees of accuracy, but also showing that Hercules has learned from some of his past mistakes, although others are lessons difficult for him to internalize due to his nature. He’s portrayed as more humble and aware of his limitations than he’s been in the past, but also as someone who prefers to be the “muscle” rather than the leader. Although he’s gained some wisdom, he’s not the smartest of heroes, and he’s aware of this, and maybe a little embarrassed by it. He also has a deep hatred of Ares, who revels in his tendencies towards violence. In sum, Pak and Van Lente give Hercules a nuanced character capable of carrying a series on his own, and also an interesting foil for Cho, whose seeming maturity of in some ways deceptive, as he hasn’t truly grown up and seems to see the world as his own private playground.

With plenty of action mixed in among the reminiscences and musings, I can see why The Incredible Hercules has gotten good reviews. Next week I’ll catch up on the series and add it to my regular pull list. It’s much, much better than the current Hulk series, which I decided to drop last month.

Gunnerkrigg Court: Orientation v1 HC Tom Siddell’s excellent web comic Gunnerkrigg Court (which I’ve written about before) finally has its first collection out. The delay is no fault of Siddell’s; it got tied up (I think) due to Archaia’s financial restructuring and subsequent buyout.

But the book’s out, and it looks great! Although it’s in smaller-than-comic-book form, Siddell’s broad style, which relies on composition and expression more than on detail, survives the compression intact. If you’d rather catch up on the series on your couch rather than at your computer, Orientation covers the whole first year of Antimony Carver’s education at the unusual school, nearly 300 pages worth. It’s one of the very best web comics out there, and I highly recommend it.