Legion of Super-Heroes #9

A comic review article by: Kyle Garret & Thom Young
After the assassination of their patron, R.J. Brande, by a faction of rogue Durlans, the Legion continues to investigate this plot against the United Planets. If the events weren’t personal enough for Chameleon Boy, the Legion’s only Durlan member, the trail that he and Brainiac 5 have been following has led to one of Cham’s family members.

Kyle Garret:
Thom Young:

Kyle Garret: This figures.

When you asked if I wanted to do a collaborative review of Legion of Superheroes #9, you pointed to the fact that you were enjoying the current series more than I was and that we would have a healthy disagreement about this issue. Given the reviews I’ve written for this title so far, it was a safe bet that you were right.

Apparently, Paul Levitz has a crystal ball, saw this coming, and decided to get me to change my tune, as this could be the best issue of the new Legion series. I attribute this change to three things: the continuation of an intriguing assassination storyline, some wonderful character moments, and a distinct lack of Earth-Man.

Thom Young: It’s interesting that you had that reaction because my reaction was sort of the reverse. I didn’t enjoy this issue as much as I have previous issues.

I still think this was a good issue, but not quite as good as issue #8 last month.

You gave both issues ratings of three and a half bullets, so you weren’t really displeased with the previous issue too much. Like you, I gave this issue three and a half bullets, too, but I would have given four bullets to last month’s issue. I thought this month’s installment was a bit slow. There’s nothing wrong with having a slow issue. It’s a natural part of an ongoing story to have some lulls, and that’s what this one was for me.

The only action-packed scene was when one of the Durlan assassins impersonated the Legion’s patron, R.J. Brande, to get close to other political leaders in order to assassinate them as well. Of course, the Durlan had already assassinated Brande, so the Legion members on hand weren’t fooled.

Thus, a predictable battle ensued with the Durlan changing his shape into that of a space dragon. Ultimately, the heroes failed to capture the assassin because he then “shifted into something microscopic,” so one of the co-conspirators who assassinated Brande got away.

Kyle: Ah, the perils of having two titles; my lessening enthusiasm for the Legion titles came with Adventure Comics #522, not the last issue of this series although, to be honest, the fact that I keep giving this series the same score means, to me, that it’s not improving--and I want it to. I don’t want to read a book that’s always three and a half bullets.

Thom: Oh, yeah, I haven’t been enjoying Adventure Comics as much either, but that’s mostly due to the work of the illustrators that series has had. I’ll say more about that later, though.

Kyle: I find it interesting that, of all the major changes Geoff Johns made to the Legion, the assassination of R.J. Brande seemed to have the least amount of impact. It’s not surprising, then, that Levitz has taken the story and made it his own. He’s done a great job of slowly giving out bits and pieces of the Durlan plot to avenge Brande’s death, as well as the conspiracy that seems to be behind it.

Thom: Yes, I like the plot. It has been proceeding exactly like I would expect one of Levitz’s plot for a Legion story to proceed. I have recently been re-reading his Great Darkness Saga--for the first time since it originally came out 28 years ago (has it really been that long?)--and his approach to the pace and development of a story is nearly identical now as it was then. The only difference is that his dialog now isn’t as hyperbolic and targeted at a juvenile readership as it was back then.

Reading Levitz’s current Legion stories (here and in Adventure Comics) has felt exactly what it is--reconnecting to the work of a favorite writer whose style has matured even if it now lacks the youthful energy it once had. It’s an agreeable trade off.

Kyle: I would agree with that, although I do get the feeling that he’s not quite sure what to do with the elements that have been introduced to the Legion since he left. Earth-Man has been something of a drag on this book, in my opinion, and it seems like Mon-El keeps leaving for good and then coming back again. The further into the series Levitz gets, the more he’s able to make the book his own again, the better it’s gotten.

Thom: While I don’t care for Earth-Man, I have been intrigued by how he has wormed his way into the Legion in general and Shadow Lass’s heart in particular. The breakup of Shadow Lass and Mon-El doesn’t ring true to me, so I see that as a definite fault in the story, but I am still intrigued by what Levitz is doing with Earth-Man, Shadow Lass, and Mon-El. I suppose one of my problems with this issue is that we don’t see anything about that subplot here.

Kyle: Yes, one of Levitz’s strengths is that he knows these characters better than anyone. Interspersed thoughout the main storyline are great character moments, more than just the usual Brainiac 5 megalomania--though the page dedicated to Brainy’s throught process on the Durlan conspiracy is one of the best moments we’ve gotten from him so far.

Tellus and Tyroc both get moments to shine as well, which is particularly gratifying given how little screen time the two of them got in the old days.

Thom: I agree. I really liked seeing Brainiac 5 use his twelfth-level Coluan intelligence as a detective rather than as a scientist, as he usually does. He is almost always presented as a brilliant scientist, but his level of intelligence should mean that he is not a left-hemisphere-dominant thinker.

He should be adept at all aspects of intellectual activity using both hemispheres of his brain--not only science and math but literature, graphic arts, music, et cetera. Of course, that means he should also be a detective who is superior to Batman and Sherlock Holmes.

As for Tellus and Tyroc, I’ve never been a huge fan of either character, but neither do I dislike them (I would prefer to see Tyroc’s current costume include a nod to his original Mike Grell disco-era costume, though).

However, my favorite scene in the issue was when Tellus linked his mind to Dawnstar’s while she was in a coma. Not only did we get a greater understanding of how Dawnstar’s tracking power works, but we were also given a painted panel in which Tellus feels adrift in the real-time virtual map of the entire cosmos that Dawnstar holds in her mind (and which she can detect changes in). I thought that was a very good scene.

As a side note, though, I also just finished reading “A Cold and Lonely Corner of Hell” from Legion of Super-Heroes #289 (July 1982) in which Dawnstar (a character created by Levitz in 1977) indicates that her tracking power involves being able to “smell” (in the vacuum of space) the energy trails of the spacecrafts she’s trying to locate (and, presumably, the scent of the person on board a spacecraft whom she is tracking).

Thus, 30 years ago Levitz had her as more of a bloodhound, I guess. I like the explanation of her powers in this current issue better, but both versions of her tracking powers are difficult to pass off through plausible pseudo-science.

Kyle: Perhaps the most interesting character moment in the book comes with the reappearance of Gates, a member of a Legion from another dimension who stayed with this team after Legion of Three Worlds. We haven’t seen much of Gates or XS, the other Legionnaire who jumped universes. It would appear that Gates’s longstanding distrust of humans is still intact, and it has apparently caused some friction with, at the very least, Timberwolf.

I’m very interested to see where this will go.

Thom: Oh, I had forgotten that Gates wasn’t part of this original Legion continuity. I always liked Gates, and I’m glad he’s being used here. I think I would have preferred to have just had this universe’s Gates show up rather than have him crossover from a parallel universe. Perhaps there is a future story, though, where this Gates will meet his double from the current continuity.

Kyle: I actually kind of wonder if it will ever even be mentioned, as it seems like the kind of thing that can just be left alone, since it would probably only confuse new readers.

Since XS is a descendent of the Flash, I wonder if she’s being held off screen in preparation for DC’s upcoming Flash spawned event. Perhaps Gates’s connection to her will lead to additional moments for him as well.

Thom: You’re probably right, but I always loved those JLA/JSA crossover stories when I was a kid where I could see the heroes of one Earth interacting with their namesakes on the other Earths. Parallel universe stories have always been my favorite type of science fiction ever since I saw the Earth-2 Robin in a Batman costume with a yellow cape and a bat-winged “R” on his chest.

I don’t necessarily think that XS, Jenni Ognats, would have a duplicate in the universe of this continuity, though, since her mother, Dawn Allen, is a contemporary of the Legion--as seen in Adventure Comics #373 (October 1968) in a story written by Jim Shooter when he was only 16 years old. In this case, I think it would be cool if Levitz had Jenny meet this continuity’s version of her mother (and her uncle Don) and see how different things turned out in this universe.

Of course, you’re probably right about DC not wanting to confuse readers with the convoluted Legion lore. Still, the fanboy in me would love stories like those.

Kyle: You’ve actually stumbled upon exactly what I was saying. Jenni wouldn’t have a duplicate in the universe of this continuity because that Jim Shooter story is still part of this continuity. According to The Legion of 3 Worlds, Jenni’s home is actually this dimension, so I guess technically she and Gates aren’t really in the same boat after all.

Thom: Oh, that’s right. She was originally from this universe and was transferred to the other universe somehow. Yep, it’s even easy to confuse longtime readers with all of this convoluted Legion lore.

Kyle: My usual complaint still stands with this book, all with a caveat: the art is improving. The fact that it’s getting better, however, doesn’t mean it’s any more suited to this book than it was before, it’s just less of a negative.

Yildiray Cinar excels on his depiction of Durla, but the rest of the book doesn’t particularly scream “future.” This problem would be less frustrating if not for the fact that there’s another artist available who is already contributing to the Legion: Francis Portela. His art in the back-up story for issue #7 cemented, in my mind, that he would be a much better fit.

Thom: That was the thing about your previous reviews of this series that I really wanted to discuss. I am not having the same problems with Cinar’s work that you’ve been having with it. In my review of the first issue I wrote:
Finally, while I am not familiar with Yildiray Cinar's work, I found his illustrations here to be more than adequate. If he's a relative newcomer to the comics industry, I can certainly see how he might well develop into a classic Legion illustrator along the lines of Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell--both of whom were relative newcomers when they first began drawing the Legion.
I don’t think he’s one of the best illustrators to work on the Legion, but I have been pleased with his work. His depiction of 31st-century Metropolis seems to fit with the depictions of the city that such previous Legion artists as Curt Swan, Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell, and Keith Giffen (and others) have given us, and I think Cinar has a good grasp of how to depict the characters and their movements.

I was more put off by Kevin Sharpe’s depictions of the Legion and their time period in Adventure Comics #515-20, and I’m looking forward to Phil Jimenez taking over the art on that title beginning in a couple of weeks.

Kyle: I think you summed up my problem with the art perfectly: “more than adequate.” I think the Legion is a title that deserves someone better than that.

In today’s market, the Legion--which hasn’t had great sales in years--needs an artist who will do more than just tell the story. I just can’t imagine anyone flipping through a copy of this book and being enamored with the art enough to give it a try.

Thom: Yeah, Cinar’s art isn’t going to bring in readers, but I don’t think it will drive them away either. There aren’t as many “must buy” illustrators in comics today as there were 30 years ago when it was the art rather than the writing that brought in readers.

Kyle: Thankfully, as you said, Phil Jimenez is such an artist, and he’s taking over Adventure Comics next month.

Legion of Superheroes #9 did exactly what it needed to do: it made me interested enough to come back for the next issue. My enjoyment of this title was waning, but this might be the start of the pendulum swinging back.

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