SUNDAY SLUGFEST: Legion of Superheroes #1

A comic review article by: The Firing Squad
As far as I can tell, none of us is really sure what happened in Legion of Super-Heroes #1, so why don't we just forgo this synopsis?

Shawn Hill:
Jason Sacks:
Ray Tate:

Shawn Hill:

The shiny buffed-up Legion of the New 52 has several strengths, but also preserves the weaknesses of recent incarnations. First up, that Gears of War-style cover, which tries to mix our familiar and new heroes (Ultra Boy, Dragonwing, Chameleon) with … guns? This team don't need no guns! They are guns, each and everyone, individually. It seems a bizarre mix of the generic sci-fi and the particular.

Inside, Francis Portela does an excellent job with cleverly modernized new costumes, as Levitz combines the survivors from Legion Academy with the main team to begin a new adventure against the Dominators, apparently. There's an especially nice splash page that divides the current roster into a variety of sub-teams who might work for future missions.

The Dominators don't make an appearance this issue, however, as the main away team is on an undercover mission to investigate their possible infiltration of an outpost.

Rather than follow the more interesting route of the Espionage Squad (despite having Chameleon and Apparition along, two charter members of the covert reconnaissance team), this team has Ultra Boy along for the heavy lifting, and uses image inducers to ensure their disguises in a simple but obvious way. There's no subtlety to their approach, and the soldiers they encounter are faceless uniforms.

The most promising development is the inclusion of Chemical Kid and Dragonwing, two Academy graduates who now have a place on the team. It took a trial by fire that resulted in the death of one of their own, but it's been a long time since anyone from the Academy has moved on to anything but substitute or adjunct level. The iconic image of the Legion is as judges sitting at tribunal chairs, deciding whether Superboy is worthy join their ranks, was replicated down the years in their cyclical membership drives (and in some cases to oust errant members).

They seem to say no a lot more than they say yes, so new characters making the cut at last is a positive. Otherwise it's just business as usual with Mon-El and Brainiac 5 jostling for leadership.

And some of the outcomes of the away mission are promising. It's in fact business as usual for Levitz's return to the title, with no big break from what he was already doing. That doesn't make for a particularly stunning debut issue, and the problems of multi-layered plotting without a balance of emotion or melodrama leaves the majority of characters as ciphers in their own story still. This era of the Legion is still waiting on a definitive story arc.

Shawn Hill knows two things: comics and art history. Find his art at

Jason Sacks:

Ah, yes, Legion of Super-Heroes #1. Or as writer Paul Levitz seems to want to call it, Legion of Super-Heroes #31.

There are some creators that like to start their first issues in media res and force the reader to catch up with them. That's a good and often very smart strategy for a new comic, especially one that has a lot going on it. The theory is that the creators throw the reader smack dab in the middle of the big story and force us to catch up. That strategy can be smart and exciting -- it can create a kind of breathless excitement that can grab a reader and not let them go.

That's not what Legion brings us. It starts in the middle of a story not as a way to get the reader excited and curious about what's happening. It starts in the middle of a story because it actually is in the middle of a story.

This comic is not at all like a first issue. Instead, it's chapter who-knows-how-many of a who-knows-how-many-issue saga. I came into this comic cold, with little knowledge of what had come before, and I was pretty thoroughly lost while reading it. There are references in this issue to different teammates and to previous events; there is talk of deaths happening previous to this issue, and characters lost in time, and Dominators doing God knows what and it all was confusing as hell for anyone like me who hadn't encountered any of this story before.

The worst moment of that confusion is the final page of the story. It's been interesting when reading these DCnU titles to see how each comic confronts the tough question of the final-page cliffhanger. We've had some really good cliffhangers and some really bad cliffhangers among the 52, but I don't think we've ever had a cliffhanger that was as much of a non-sequitur as the one in this comic. I literally read the last page and said to myself "WTFs"? What's a Daxamite and why am I supposed to care? How in the world am I supposed to know what's going on, and why was no effort put forth in trying to help me understand? It's the opposite of a cliffhanger -- a cliffjumper maybe?

And, you know, it's sad because I want to love this comic. I've always liked the Legion as a cool, wacky, universe-spanning, sci-fi bit of superhero decadence. Under the right hands, this series is all about reveling in crazy sci-fi tropes that feel fresh and familiar all at the same time. Paul Levitz's hands were the hands that once did exactly that for this series. Levitz once made the Legion stand out, made it fresh and fun and interesting and even innovative.

But unfortunately he doesn't do that here. He's lost the mojo that once made his comics feel fresh and fun and interesting and innovative. He expects a lot from his readers -- a lot of knowledge of backstory and characters and events that are just completely obscure to me. We're expected to understand the universe that the Legion lives in, and Levitz doesn't really help readers much.

I also really hated Francis Portela's art in this comic. It looked flat and confusing to me, without a lot of grace or cleanness. It's busy and ugly and characters often are posed so that their bodies are in impossible positions. His backgrounds are overly detailed and his art is filled with distracting quirks that take away from the storytelling power of the tale he's trying to tell.

So this comic is pretty much a mess and definitely a lost opportunity. I'm sure there are many lapsed Legion readers looking forward to consuming a new and fun Legion comic. Unfortunately the team of Levitz and Portella deliver a muddled snooze-fest that pushes new readers away instead of pulling them in.

Jason Sacks has been obsessed with comics for longer than he'd like to remember. He considers himself a student of comics history and loves delving into obscure corners of this crazy artform. Jason has been writing for this site for about seven years and has also been published in a number of fan publications, including the late, lamented Amazing Heroes and The Flash Companion. He lives in north Seattle with his wife and three kids.

Ray Tate:

This is the most depressing I've ever seen the Legion of Super-Heroes, and I can't believe Paul Levitz had a hand in this. He's only one of my favorite comic book writers. With Joe Staton, he created Helena Wayne, the Huntress. With Wally Wood, he originated Power Girl. He guided the JSA back in the day through rousing adventures, and his earlier Legion of Super-Heroes runs offered some of the most memorable moments in the history of the team. This issue, not so much.

The best of the book occurs when the Legion Espionage Squad infiltrates a planet that should be spying on the Dominators but instead colludes with the yellow, bulbous headed aliens. Even this episode doesn't pack the punch it should, and that's because despite the inclusion of younger, less invested Legionnaires the rest of book mitigates any potential exuberance.

The Legion looks so sad. Even the lesbian couple of Shrinking Violet and Lightning Lass lacks perk. Glorinth -- who, if memory serves, is the White Witch -- weeps over somebody named Oaa. Got me. He or she isn't one of the Legion Lost, and he's not a classic teammate. Giant Boy or Leviathan, whatever he's called, joins Starfleet, can DC use that, to atone for his transgressions. Dream Girl laments the loss of Superman to the team. The so-called Flashpoint Barrier now makes time travel difficult. Starboy's contribution is to sit morosely in the comfy chair. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, I guess.

Brainiac 5 looking like a hippie who survived Woodstock argues that he should be the leader, not Mon-El, who apparently had a high death count during his command. Don't Legionnaires elect their leaders? That used to be a big deal in the old series, and of all the ties this book keeps with the dystopia that was, it doesn't appear to support an actual fun part of the classic Legion.

Fun seems to be a dirty word in this first issue of Legion of Super-Heroes, and Levitz writes the title as if nothing in the DCU has changed. That's a mistake. Why should this title suffer while everything else earned a fresh start?

Ray Tate's first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, "Spider Without a Web," published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups. In the POBB, as it was affectionately known, Ray reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he's young at heart. Of course, we all know better.

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