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Sunday Slugfest: Legion of 3 Worlds #2 (of 5)

Posted: Sunday, October 19, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Geoff Johns
George Pérez (p), Scott Koblish (i), HI-FI (colors)
DC Comics
Geoff Johns and George Perez continue crafting the Crisis of the 31st Century!

Shawn Hill:
Jon Judy:
Paul Brian McCoy:
Dave Wallace:
Thom Young:




Shawn Hill

Plot: Resoundingly simple, though overloaded with characters: the Legion of Super-Villains, led by Superboy Prime, recruit Mordru and make the last Green Lantern their first victim. Meanwhile, on Earth, Brainiac 5 frantically seeks help from familiar realms.

Comments: The real star here is the amazing George Perez. In interviews relating to this project, he's stated that drawing the Legion is a longed-for challenge, and it shows in the art. He goes mad in accuracy and invention on a slew of nearly forgotten heroes and villains, managing to put his own spin on many of the main ones.

Johns, on the other hand, is doing his usual Infinite Crisis/Teen Titans maiming and other threats of physical violence for dramatic effect, abetted by his gleefully rabid Superboy Prime, who is so annoyed by the universes he now finds himself in (or, as explained this issue, driven mad by his time in limbo), he wants to destroy everything that symbolizes to him the idealism in which he once believed. He's an adolescent having a perpetual tantrum, a villain starring in his own bildungsroman who never evolves or progresses beyond his initial disappointment with reality. Granted, Prime's reality shock was magnitudes more severe than most, but there's no trace left of anything resembling the values we expect from a Kryptonian raised on Earth (any Earth). Even Lightning Lad laughs in Clark's face when he proposes redeeming the boy.

But enough of that, let's get back to the beautiful fighting. Johns has done his homework regarding the other teams (the Hard Reboot Legion that followed Zero Hour, but evolved into their Abnett and Lanning maturity level; the Waid Soft Reboot version, still rabidly spouting anti-adult nonsense, seemingly immune from the sensible effect of Shooter's recent revamp of their situation), and makes an admirable partner to Perez.

I've poured over this issue daily since I bought it, just to enjoy the Perez take on Shakari and the White Witch, on Mordru (who seems to control all the magic left in the original universe, as remembered by Johns and updated in the years we haven't been seeing them by Gary Frank – this team seems to pick up right after the Magic Wars, but before the "5 Year Gap" that left so many scars on the team), and especially on those villains.

It's the Adult evil counterparts to the originating trio of any version of the Legion who really impress. The over-powered Cosmic King and the perverse Saturn Queen seem as adept at destruction as their counterparts are dedicated and hopeful, and though the occasionally redeemable Mekt makes little impression, well, there's also the Fatal Five, Black Mace, Titania, Tyr, the Super-Assassins League and other minor deadbeats all gloriously ready to punish and destroy.

There's also clear evidence that Johns' Green Lantern fetish will be exercised, as Oa seems to figure prominently as a plot element at a time when ring bearers are few and far between. This I don't mind, as I've always thought a literally timeless race like the Guardians would still have a presence in another thousand years (but drop in the bucket of time to them). But at least one Lantern is left at least, and that's where Mon-El and Tasmia go, in search of aid. Perez outdoes himself with Shadow Lass's appearance, giving her a unique and beautiful visage to go with Frank's updated and sexed-up costume (as if the Cockrum update from the 1970s needed much help).

Is any of this deep? No, but it sure is pretty, and full of incident.




Jon Judy:

When I was a young'un, I got one dollar a week for my allowance, which got me one 60-cent comic book. There was four cents of tax on that, which left me with thirty-six cents, which I would then combine with my dollar the next week to get two comics. In this way, I was able to get six comic books a month, outside of months when I got a little money from a visit to my aunt and uncle or some birthday cash.

Now my older brother received the same income, and we would combine our comic book purchases to maximize our reading. If I got the latest copies of Avengers and Detective, he'd pass those by to get two other books; I'd read his and he'd read mine, and in this way we could read twelve books a month – sometimes more.

In those dark days there was only one source for direct comic sales in our town – Comics Cards and Collectables – still my shop of choice – and we weren't always able to get to that promised land. So we'd ride our bikes, my brother and I, once a week to all the nearby – and not so nearby – retail outlets: drug stores, convenience stores, grocery stores and so on, carefully considering the purchases we made.

But if we couldn't find any books in a given week that tickled our fan-ish fancies, we'd still spend our cash on comic books we had no interest in. Better bad comic books than no comic books. Of such junkies are true fanboys made.

But even if I was so promiscuous in my comic book purchases, I'd actually save my money before I bought an issue of Legion of Superheroes.

Legion just confused the hell out of me. Who were all these people? Why was Superboy hanging around with them? Why did they have such stupid names? Yeah, that's right, I'd blow his last sixty cents on Top Dog – look it up, kids – but I wouldn't go near Legion.

Flash forward a few years, and Keith Giffen brought me around with his seminal "Five Years Later" re-launch. From there I went backwards and found that, hey, there had been some really, really good Legion comics. Paul Levitz and Giffen did some amazing work on the series, taking all of those characters and cramming them into a really cool comic book, somehow managing to develop everyone – well develop them as fully as one can develop mainstream superheroes – despite the unwieldy size of the cast.

I also found out there had been some really, really bad Legion comics. Comics crammed full of generic, two-dimensional – or even one-dimensional – superheroes with no basis in reality – emotional reality. In short, rather than the four or five bland characters one couldn't care less about in your typical superhero team comic, Legion gave you thirty or forty generic characters you couldn't care less about. Outside of Levitz and Giffen, that was my assessment of what most creators did with the Legion.

So through the years, every time Legion re-booted, I'd follow it along for a year or so, and my responses to those comics ran from dislike to mild enjoyment. Waid's recent take on the team, for example, was novel and fun, and the stuff by the Bierbaums had some terrific moments, but for the most part all I got when I dropped in on the Legion was disappointment and confusion.

Who are all these people? Why should I care about them? And why are they so lame? They look sort of like some characters some creators did some cool stuff with, but they sure weren't them.

And then along came Legion of 3 Worlds, a startling leap forward in Legion comics, an advancement I would have thought impossible. Now you get seventy or eighty generic characters you couldn't care less about in each issue.

Now that isn't to say Legion of 3 Worlds is without merit. There is one good thing to be said about the book, and it can be summed up in two words: George Perez.

Perez does his usual masterful work here, managing to tell a clear, easy-to-follow story even while he has to juggle so many characters. This issue is crammed full of content, with some pages having as many as 15 or 16 panels, and pages with 9 or more panels outnumbering those with 8 or less. It's a terrific accomplishment.

Credit must also go to Johns – assuming this was written in a full-script format – for playing to Perez's strengths, knowing he would be able to handle those panel-packed pages and therefore freeing Johns up to use splash pages to maximum effect rather than simply as lazy storytelling. And so we get two two-page splashes, both of which reflect each other in a nifty way and both of which do what splash pages are supposed to do: emphasize those moments in the story which are supposed to have the most impact. It's terrific the way these two work together to put the story first, not to cram in a bunch of pin-ups and splash pages that are allegedly telling a story.

The problem, however, is the story this book tells, not the way it tells that story. Simply put, nothing happens.

Well, okay, nothing much happens. Spoiler time: I'm about to summarize the entire contents of this issue: A whole lot of bad guys are on the loose and gunning for the Legion, so the Legion gets a whole bunch of good guys from parallel universes to help them.

And that cost me four bucks.

Who are all of these good guys and why should I care about them? I don't know, and I don't care. Oh, sure, they look sort of like Brainiac 5 and Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad et al., but none of them – outside of Brainiac and his usual ego tripping, and Cosmic Boy and his usual "the weight of the world is upon me for I am the leader" whining – do anything that makes them seem like unique characters, nothing that in any way endears them to the reader.

So when the bad guys come for them and the chips are down – I just don't give a damn.

In short, these characters may all come from three different worlds, but they band together to create one boring comic book.




Paul Brian McCoy:

I really didn't know if I was going to buy this issue or not. I looked at it in the shop and considered putting it back on the shelf. Surely someone would buy it. I wouldn't be sticking my LCS with a book that no one wanted. And just flipping through it made my eyes hurt, straining to distinguish backgrounds from foregrounds, one body from another.

But I'm a trooper, and it was a slow week. So I paid my four dollars and brought it home. I read it first, since I knew it was going to take some time to decipher the pages and figure out what was happening in the tiny, overlapping panels.

I took my standard approach and read it straight through, not worrying about not knowing who characters were or what was going on; letting the dialogue and caption boxes give me the information the creators felt I needed to keep up; and waiting until I'd reached the last page before really looking at the breakdown of scenes and the time given to each plot point.

The pacing in this issue is better (but not by much), but Perez's overcrowding of each page refuses to let up. The only restraint that he's showing is with the deaths of characters, in that we don't actually see the beheadings and dismemberings that usually accompany a Geoff Johns production. But it's early yet. This month it's mainly the bad guys who are being killed in what is almost an effective, stereotypical "last stand" scene, as one character sacrifices himself to ensure the safety of others.

Why doesn't he get away, too, you ask? For the same reason that I find myself almost entirely incapable of maintaining my interest in this story. He dies not for any logical reason, but because the plot demands that he die. Green Lantern staying to die heroically has absolutely no narrative justification. There's no reason that the Legion of Super-Villains would be able to follow them through the magic portal (and even that sounds silly, when I say it out loud), since it would close behind them. Like it does close behind them. However, if he doesn't die here, we wouldn't have the textbook satisfaction of the final page "surprise" reveal.

The character's death is just a silly plot point that has no purpose other than to kill the last Green Lantern in the universe. Except he's not the last one. Surprise. It's the dramatic death of the Penultimate Green Lantern. A character that I've never seen before and really don't care about one way or another.

But this is only one of the three major plot points this month. The first is the arrival of the Legions of Two Other Worlds, which, as cliche would have it, appears to be a one-way trip. So we have three groups of super heroes, sometimes three versions of the same super heroes, all crammed into the cave that was the Justice League's original headquarters. Which is still around in the 31st Century and still crammed full of dust- and cobweb-free trophies and mementos.

Thanks to Perez's penchant for filling every bit of space in every single panel, the cave appears to be small and cluttered, with barely any room for the handful of characters who are preparing for their seance to move around without tripping over some gadget, helmet, or weapon that's been sitting there for 10 centuries. So when suddenly the cave is filled with approximately fifty super heroes (including at least one giant), it just seems a bit much, artistically. There wasn't a larger, better suited place to do this?

I understand that Johns is attempting to infuse this moment with the symbolic echoes of the classic crossovers, when the JSA and the JLA met for the first time and times thereafter. I get that. But it doesn't serve the story. It's posturing in an attempt to artificially inflate the importance, or maybe just the credibility, of this story and this author. And it all takes place in maybe three pages, again seeming to give short shift to an important moment in the story, in order to provide extra pages for the extended opening sequence that serves very little narrative point.

And if I have to listen to the three Brainiacs keep arguing with each other with different simple-minded cliches I'm going to stop reading this. It's not funny. It's not clever. It's almost as annoying as the character of Superboy Prime.

Almost.

Which brings us to plot point three. The battle between the Legion of Super-Villains and the Legion of Super Heroes (of One World). Well, the beginning of the battle. Okay. A page and a half of the battle.

This intrigues me. If this were Marvel's Secret Invasion, this would be the build up to the grand finale, as all the forces are gathered, aimed, and fired at one another. Then we'd get an issue of battle, and then our conclusion. Although the marshaling of the forces would have taken six issues.

It looks like Johns may have something more up his sleeve, since we've got three more issues to go. But that could just be wishful thinking. It's more likely (given how he paced "Sinestro Corps War") that we'll just get two and a half issues of fighting, with a final half issue devoted to a heart-warming empty, nostalgic/jingoistic gesture before a final one-on-one beatdown of the main badguy. I hope I'm wrong.

Anyway, things look rough for our heroes in just this page and a half. Lots of agonizing looks and painful contortions, but I can't tell if anyone is actually dying yet. Since it's Johns, I assume that some of these tiny figures in crowded panels are taking critical damage, but Perez's old-school sensibilities keeps it decidedly PG-13 (as opposed to the R-rated carnage of "Sinestro Corps War").

Then we cut to "the center of the universe" (sigh) and the planet Oa. Where we get our "surprise" final page. The reveal that there's at least one more last Green Lantern in the universe. Probably for real this time. Sodam Yat (horrible name, by the way) is back and looking downright ridiculous in one of the worst (nearly) full-page shots that I've seen Perez do since his days on The Avengers, back in the 70s.

I almost forgot to mention the opening page and half, which seems to take place in Limbo, where some version of the Legion languishes, waiting for the walls of Limbo to break down so they can re-enter continuity. At least I assume that's what's going on, since Grant Morrison has kind of established that Limbo is the repository for forgotten and discontinued characters. I guess that's our actual tie-in with Final Crisis. I guess. It's hard to tell, really, but nothing else seems to have anything to do with justifying the Final Crisis banner on the cover.

You know, when I sat down to write this review, I really didn't know what I was going to say. I re-read the book and was still at a loss. Then I began flipping through it again, without concentrating on the dialogue, letting the images tell the story. But it's all rather nonsensical and cluttered. When I was done, my eyes were actually hurting from the strain, and I felt a little dumber. Dumberer? All I know is every time I reread the damned thing, it drops half a bullet on my score. That's no good.

I honestly don't understand why anyone would enjoy this. It's empty of any character development, it's devoid of internal logic as motivation for action, and it literally hurts to read. I'd tell you to steer clear of this, but I know it won't do any good. So go ahead. Buy it. Love it. You know you will.

I'm just gonna go take some aspirin and lie down for a while.




Dave Wallace:

I was surprised that I enjoyed the first issue of Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds as much as I did. Considering how few Legion comics I've read, it was surprisingly accessible and easily comprehensible, weaving its multiversal-crossover concept into a straightforward central story that also featured some strong artwork from George Pérez. It wasn't the greatest superhero comic I've ever read, but it was a reasonably solid effort that I awarded 3.5 bullets in the slugfest review of the issue

Unfortunately, this second issue eradicates much of the goodwill that was earned by the opener and makes me wonder whether I'm going to have any interest in following the book any further.

I freely admit that I'm perhaps not the target audience for this story, since I'm more of a Marvel reader than a DC follower. Thankfully, writer Geoff Johns included some deft exposition in the first issue to help new readers get their bearings, which was much appreciated. However, Johns seems to have written this second issue on the assumption that everyone reading it is already familiar with the characters that appear, their relationships, and their place in the DC Universe. I'm left feeling much the same as I did when I read Crisis on Infinite Earths: there's certainly an epic quality to the story, but I have virtually no emotional connection with it. Despite the presence of loads of people in colourful costumes trying to avert a looming disaster, I can't really invest in their story because none of them is given any depth beyond their powers and very broadly-sketched personalities (that are established via some fairly cheesy dialogue).

Nonetheless, there are some enjoyable moments that don't rely on a pre-existing familiarity with the characters to enjoy. I enjoyed the multiple-Brainiac scene which saw three versions of the same character squabbling over their plan. I also enjoyed Superman's discussion with Lightning Lad over Superboy Prime, as it reinforced the immense compassion and sympathy that Superman possesses, justifying his approach to Superboy Prime as an attempt to see the good in everyone, and making his attempt to rehabilitate rather than destroy his enemy seem laudable rather than foolish and naïve.

Unfortunately, many of the issue's bigger moments still fall flat, particularly the cliffhanger (which means virtually nothing to me due to my lack of familiarity with the character involved). On the strength of this issue, it seems that Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds is shaping up to be as much a Green Lantern story as it is a Legion story (and as someone who has been reading Johns' Green Lantern for a little while, you'd think that that would help - but it doesn't, really).

Even the art isn't as strong as you might expect, with George Pérez providing several examples of cramped, busy layouts that make the pages feel claustrophobic and busy, when a more elegant approach might be preferable. The individual panels are fine, and it's difficult to deny that Pérez has a strong grasp of form and has mastered his technique, but the panel-to-panel storytelling is sometimes weak, and I feel as though the layouts sometimes get in the way of the storytelling, rather than enhancing it. Perhaps Pérez is trying to reflect the chaotic, busy nature of the storyline, but it comes at the expense of narrative clarity, becoming a barrier between the story and the reader.

That said, there are still some standout images that show Pérez at his best, whether it's the double-splash page of different Legions coming into contact with one another, the moody scenes on Oa as the Green Lantern rings return to an almost-empty headquarters, or the strong, vividly-coloured cover that makes the book instantly attention-grabbing even at a distance. Lovers of his work on Crisis on Infinite Earths will probably lap this up (the two stories feel very similar at the moment: each could be described as a glorious mess with the convoluted continuity of the DC continuity at its centre) - but casual readers of his work could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss is about Pérez when they read this book.

I fear that Final Crisis: Legion of 3 Worlds will only really be resonant if you're already familiar with the characters involved, and invested enough to care what happens next in the soap-opera of their lives. It's not even as though the series has a decent baddie to enjoy, as Superboy-Prime's motivation as a villain still amounts to no more than the desire to be villainous, which is about as shallow a motivation as I could imagine. Those readers who are hoping for even a tangential connection to Final Crisis will be disappointed by the continuing lack of relevance to that event, and even Legion fans may feel short-changed after paying $3.99 for an issue of meandering plotting and repetitive action that doesn't really take the story anywhere new over the course of its 31 pages. Anyone can write a love-letter to the Legion that will give established fans a warm, fuzzy glow: the trick is giving new readers a reason to care, and I don't think that Johns achieves that in this second issue nearly as well as he did in the first.




Thom Young:

I was somewhat impressed with the first issue of Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds. I thought it did a good job of providing exposition for new readers in a way that was not clunky. I was also impressed that the structure of that issue seemed to be designed to support the content of this series (i.e., the first issue seemed to have parallel structural elements and the story is about three versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes from parallel universes). Finally, I also thought the dialog in the first issue sounded "natural"--at least in relation to the fantastic circumstances of the plot.

Granted, I'm merely praising that first issue for achieving rather elementary aspects of the craft of storytelling. However, it seems that there are so many comic books (as well as television shows) nowadays that don't display anything close to a mastery of these basic elements, so I find it refreshing to come across a story that merely possesses a structure that reflects its content and that has dialog that sounds natural for the characters and situations.

Of course, in a science fiction story (which stories involving the Legion of Super-Heroes are to some degree), I also appreciate either actual science, credible theories, and/or plausible pseudoscience. Fortunately, the first issue didn't disappointment in this regard either. However, this second issue of Legion of Three Worlds returns writer Geoff Johns to the decidedly implausible location of the "center of the universe"--which is where he places the planet Oa (page 31 panel one). I guess the implication must be that Oa is located in "the Polaris Galaxy," since that's also where Johns placed what he considered to be Thanagar's home galaxy in Infinite Crisis a few years back.

Now I haven't been reading Green Lantern, but I was informed by one of my fellow reviewers that in that series Johns is no longer claiming that the Green Lanterns patrol the entire universe that Oa is supposedly the center of. Instead, so I have been told, Johns has limited the Green Lantern Corps to patrolling only the Milky Way Galaxy in sectors that radiate out from Oa--which is (supposedly) located near the center of the Milky Way Galaxy.

I can support a story that has a corp of intra-galactic policemen patrolling beats within a single galaxy (in which both Thanagar and Oa are located). However, this nonsense about a fictitious "center of the galaxy" is not just bad science, it's implausible pseudoscience that contradicts itself within Johns's own canon of work at DC.

I know that in the 1960s John Broome always placed Oa at "the center of the universe"--and that the error was never corrected by his editor, Julius Schwartz (at least not until sometime in the 1970s under the authorship of different writers). However, those stories were written for 10-year-old boys (which is not really a good excuse anyway). What's more relevant is that they were written at a time only about 40 years after the theory that the universe was comprised of more than one galaxy was first proposed.

It wasn't until 1930 that astronomers could prove that Andromeda was not a nebula within our own galaxy but a distant galaxy some two or three million light years away. At that point, it was suddenly realized that the universe contained more than one galaxy and that our own solar system was not located near the center of our own galaxy, the Milky Way.

Thus, I can forgive John Broome and Julius Schwartz for clinging to astronomical views that they undoubtedly learned when they were in grade school in the 1920s. Those Green Lantern stories of the 1960s were not just created for 10-year-old boys, they were created by men who learned their astronomy from outdated textbooks of the 1920s when they were ten-year-old boys themselves. Geoff Johns's decision to cling to the bad science of those almost 50-year-old stories is neither charming nor nostalgic; it's just a bad creative decision--especially since several Green Lantern stories of the 1970s and 1980s (though not all of them) corrected the astronomy.

Of course, Johns has already revealed on numerous occasions that he really doesn't understand astronomical concepts. He referred to Thanagar's solar system as "the Polaris Galaxy" rather than as "the Polaris star system" (indicating that he doesn't understand the difference between a star system (or solar system) and a galaxy. He also seemed to indicate in last year's Legion of Super-Heroes arc in Action Comics that light travels from the sun to Earth in a fraction of a second (in reality, it takes about eight minutes).

Nevertheless, despite Johns's repetition of his poor understanding of astronomy as he places Oa at the center of the universe, I didn't hate this second issue of Legion of Three Worlds, but neither did I love it. The first issue ended with Brainiac Five's startling plan to bring the Legion of Super-Heroes from two parallel universes to his universe so that three versions of the Legion could team up. It wasn't made clear why Brainiac Five thought this was a good idea--other than it would increase the heroes' numbers while also giving Geoff Johns a story to write that involved three versions of the Legion from parallel universes.

Near the end of this second issue, Brainiac Five brings those other two Legions over by having the White Witch use the crystal ball that the Justice League of America used to bring the Justice Society of America to Earth-One in Justice League of America #21 in 1963. Part of me thrills to see these elements from my childhood being brought back into a contemporary story that implies the validity of the old Earth-One/Earth-Two concept that Julius Schwartz and Gardner Fox came up with almost 50 years ago. I first read that first JLA/JSA crossover ("Crisis on Earth-One" and "Crisis on Earth-Two") when it was reprinted in DC 100-Page Super Spectacular #6 in 1971, and I got a kick out of seeing the Legion dig out that old crystal ball from the museum that the JLA's old cave headquarters at Happy Harbor has become in the 31st century.

Yet, this series seems to be focusing on using nostalgic elements like the Happy Harbor cave, the crystal ball, and the location of Oa at the center of the universe to appeal to longtime older readers like myself. The problem is that being able to relive my childhood only goes so far in satisfying me. I also want a good story that entertains the adult I've become who wants more in a story than bright costumes, fight scenes, and bad science. Unfortunately, I don't think that's the story that Geoff Johns has planned--but, hey, at least George Perez is doing some very nice work with his illustrations.



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