Action Comics this week wraps up “Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes”. It’s been a strange nostalgia trip for us 70s Legion fans, starting with “The Lightning Saga” and now this one.
To summarize, as a boy Superman was recruited by the Legion – a group of teenaged heroes who live in the 30th century – to become a member, and to give him a sense of belonging to a group of his peers. However, this isn’t the Legion of his 30th century, since that’s presumably the group currently being published in Legion of Super-Heroes. Rather, this is the Legion whose adventures were published in the 1950s through the late 80s. Only in this world Karate Kid never died (instead he gets to die in Countdown to Final Crisis, but that’s another matter), and the Magic Wars never brought the 30th century to its knees, and thus the Five Years Later stories never happened. Rather, Superman grew up and stopped going to the 30th century. And the Legion grew up, too, without him.
In “The Lightning Saga” a few Legionnaires came back to the 20th century to bring the Flash back to his time. Karate Kid and Starman stayed behind. And then Brainiac 5 contacts Superman and brings him into the future to help overthrow the future Justice League, a group of former Legion rejects led by Earth-Man, who can absorb the powers of other heroes. The rejects have convinced Earth that Superman was a human like them who fought for human rights and that they should kick all the aliens off of Earth – a bummer for the Legion since they’re mostly aliens. When Superman arrives he finds that the sun has been turned red, so he loses his powers, and that other planets are preparing to stage an all-out war against the xenophobic Earth.
All of this is pretty silly, and it gets sillier in this issue, which features such elements as a complete disregard for the speed of light, and Superman gaining and losing his powers instantly depending on the sun’s color (I thought Superman acted more like a solar battery rather than the sun acting like a magic on/off switch like it did in the 1950s, but admittedly I don’t follow too closely). From a structural standpoint, it’s never clear why Superman needed to be involved in this story at all, as he has only a marginal effect on the outcome (besides throwing the final punch). Thematically he witnesses what happens when his name is used to evil purposes, but a thousand years down the line there’s not a whole lot he can do about that.
I sound like a sourpuss, but despite the continuity confusion and story silliness, I actually enjoyed the story and it was consistently near the top of my reading stack each month. Johns may have written a very loose story, but I was genuinely interested in what the heck was going on, and it features plenty of rah-rah heroism to make it actually feel good. Plus as a fan of the Legion from the 1970s, I enjoyed seeing “my” Legion back again; their backstory may not make any sense, but by-and-large they acted like the Legion I loved, and in a way that’s more important. So as self-indulgent, ultimately-meaningless stories go, it was a fun read.
I’m conflicted about penciller Gary Frank’s art. His style has evolved over the last 10 years from a clean-lined cartoonist to a strict realist, rendering his figures in careful detail. However, he’s another artist who rarely draws backgrounds, which means his panels are often missing a sense of place. The cover of this issue (at left) is a good overview of his style in all these regards, actually. Still, he does have a strong feel for facial expressions and draws some nice action scenes which keeps the story moving along. (He also draws a terrific Dawnstar.) Overall it’s a net win, although I think if he fleshed out his panels a bit more then he could move up into Dave Gibbons territory as an artist.
I guess this Legion will next pop up later this year in something called Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds, which might explain why there are all these Legions running around. Or not. Still it’ll be drawn by George Pérez, and that’s enough to get me to check it out. (There’s an interview with Geoff Johns about it here.)