Sunday Slugfest - Legion of Super-Heroes #1

A comic review article by: Keith Dallas, Michael Deeley, Shawn Hill, James Redington, Jason Sacks
“And We Are Legion”

Keith Dallas

This will probably be one of the most bizarre reviews you’re ever likely to read:

Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s first issue of Legion of Super-Heroes is a remarkably intelligent, invigorating, beautiful-looking comic book. Waid, Kitson, colorist Chris Blythe and editor Stephen Wacker deserve heaps of praise for producing this, and I sincerely hope the Legion finally attract the large audience it’s been hoping to reclaim since Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen’s mid-1980s seminal run.

However, I doubt I will buy another issue.

I’ll explain why later, but first let me stress that this version of the Legion of Super-Heroes is ambitious and high-minded. It posits the team in a utopian 31st century era of peace, security, order… and boredom. A group of super-powered teenagers initiates a cultural revolution focused on 21st century hero worship. Looking to emulate the icons from the “Great Heroic Age,” these Legionnaires intervene in crisis situations: dismantling a haywire giant robot and traveling to Lallor to protect their devotees from being slaughtered by government troops.

The thrust of this new version of Legion of Super-Heroes is generational conflict: teenagers rebelling against a culturally stifling adult society. The adults can’t fathom these youths’ preoccupation with the past, their desire to live as free, unsupervised individuals, or their “cowboy” disposition. Why can’t these kids just conform to “social protocol” like everyone else? As such, Waid, Kitson and Wacker put Legion of Super-Heroes on a course it has never traveled down before in its near 50 year publication history. Not that the Legion has always been depicted as loyal, unquestioning soldiers of Earthgov and the United Planets. Several times the Legion had to oppose government authority (the Legion had to topple the alien Dominator-controlled Earthgov in “TMK”’s early 90s run and then the reboot Legion of the mid-90s had to deal with a disapproving UP President). Now however, the Legion oppose not just authority, but the prevailing culture of their society. That’s uncharted territory for the Legion, but it obviously should resonate with younger readers who of course find their own interests are in sharp contrast to those of their parents. The attitude of this series is made clear in Cosmic Boy’s dismissal of a UP Senator: “Eat it, Grandpa.”

All the familiar Legionnaire names get presented (Sun Boy, Shadow Lass, Invisible Kid, Ultra Boy, Light Lass, et al) with different costumes (most notably, Element Lad) and different characteristics (Star Boy is black). Kitson does a phenomenal job providing each Legionnaire with a distinct appearance, and it’s certainly wise not to re-start this version of Legion of Super-Heroes with yet another new origin tale. It was more important to introduce the prevailing themes of the series as there is plenty of time in later issues for flashbacks to the team’s beginnings (and I am curious to know how this version of the Legion got started. All previous versions had the Moses-like benefactor R.J. Brande establish the Legion when three super-powered youths (Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy and Lightning Lad) foiled an assassination attempt and saved his life. That kind of origin though would seem incongruous with the spirit of this version of the team.)

Again, this first issue of Legion of Super-Heroes is accomplished work all around: in concept, in story execution, in art, in dialogue, in color separation. So why would I not be willing to continue buying it? Good question.

The most suitable way to explain my sentiment is through analogy. Imagine if you were a long-time devoted fan of a NBA team. Let’s use the Dallas Mavericks for the sake of a specific example. In recent years, you’ve been greatly entertained watching Michael Finley, Dirk Nowitski, Eduardo Najera and Steve Nash execute an exciting, high scoring offense with no-look passes, marvelous perimeter shooting, and dunks. The Mavericks could never beat the Los Angeles Lakers or the San Antonio Spurs when it mattered, so it was assured that they could never win a championship. But regardless of the end of the season results, you LIKE this team. You ENJOY watching this cast of characters, this interesting assemblage of talent. Now Nash and Najera play for other teams, and let’s imagine that Nowitski and Finley get traded for Kobe Bryant and LeBron James and that the team signed Tim Duncan and Yao Ming as free agents. Just to complete the wholesale transformation, let’s pretend that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban decided to raze American Airlines Center and move the team to Hartford, Connecticut. So now with the all-star line-up of Bryant, James, Ming and Duncan, the Hartford Mavericks absolutely dominate the NBA to a perfect 82-0 season and a championship.

How would you feel about this team? You’re a devoted fan of a team that’s won a championship. You should be ecstatic, right? Well, I know I’d lose commitment to a team that discarded ALL my favorite players. I’d be interested in the results, but my heart wouldn’t be completely devoted to the team…, even one as successful as the one I’ve concocted.

That’s how I feel about Waid and Kitson’s version of the Legion of Super-Heroes. It’s a superior super-hero comic book. It’s undoubtedly the most ambitious and highest quality version of the Legion in 15 years…, but it’s not the version to which I became dedicated. This is a version for uninitiated new readers. A “grandpa” like me needs to dig out my Keith Giffen issues, sit comfortably in my rocking chair and re-read past glory.

I do though sincerely believe that Legion of Super-Heroes deserves to be a long-lasting success because what Waid, Kitson and Wacker have crafted is better than 90% of the super-hero comic books being produced today.

Michael Deeley

The 31st Century is a time of peace, order, and perfect control. The Legion hate it. The Legion is an intergalactic organization of teenagers who are just plain sick of the way things are. They are led by superpowered teens who’ve patterned themselves after modern day superheroes. New recruit Invisible Kid goes into action with the team when Legionnaires on planet Lallor are violently attacked by the military. This action could have a negative impact on Lallor’s relations with the United Planets and lead to interplanetary war.

The Legion will cross that bridge when they come to it. Right now, they’re saving lives and changing the world.

I am not a Legion fan. I’ve read a few comics here and there, (including “The Great Darkness Saga,” one of the greatest stories ever told and proof that Paul Levitz doesn’t get enough credit as a writer), I’ve absorbed a few things through general comic fandom, but I’ve never really read any Legion comic on a regular basis. So the impression I have of the books and team may not be accurate. I’ve always seen the Legion of Super-Heroes as the X-men before the X-Men. Their appeal was in the character interaction, the “who’s dating who” stories, coupled with epic battles. There was little in the way of political intrigue or social commentary. There might have been more of that when the series was re-booted in the 1990’s, but I can’t say for certain. Basically, I saw the Legion as a space-based soap opera.

Mark Waid has changed that. Waid has re-invented the Legion by giving the team something it always lacked: a reason to exist. Sure, the Legion was first formed out of the spirit of civic duty and inspiration by Superboy. Yes, the 1994 Legion was brought together to foster interplanetary unity. But honestly, those seem kind of weak. Can you imagine a bunch of teens with powers saying, “Hey gang! Let’s be heroes and protect people, just like superheroes used to do! Maybe it’ll teach everyone to get along!” I’m too cynical to believe that.

But kids coming together in defiance of adults? Emulating the vigilantes and highly individualistic superheroes of yesteryear? Rebelling against a society that controls every aspect of your life? Now THAT gets folks under your flag!

What really make this book work are the little things. Light Lass flirting with Ultra Boy, Sun Boy, and Invisible Kid; Star Boy’s good intentions somehow always turning out wrong; Cosmic Boy trying to take his leadership role seriously without losing touch with why he formed the Legion; Colossal Boy being a giant with the power to shrink; And one of the best post-modern comments on comic books: “If you know anything about the great heroic age, you know super-hero names have a certain custom. SuperMAN, BatMAN, Wonder GIRL. . . adjective, gender. . . when gender applies.” Wonder what they’d think of “Black Lightning”? One thing that’s enabled the Legion to remain in print for nearly 50 years is its diverse cast of unique characters. Waid’s got that part down cold.

The other thing is the army of dedicated “LOSH” fans. The final pages, about non-powered teens standing up for the Legion, are a nice tribute to the character’s fandom: “They’re not here because of us . . . we’re here because of them.”

Barry Kitson’s art is beautiful, but you knew that already. Kitson draws a sleek, clean future Earth, a war-ravaged Lallor, realistic and different people, and an almost endless field of dead bodies. Each is done perfectly. The choice of Mick Gray to ink the Lallor battle scenes was inspired. His inks underscore the darkness and seriousness of the situation. I’d like to see him continue on the series, either as a regular inker or just inking the book’s darker moments.

I would have given this book 4halfbullets if not for one thing: pages 7 and 8 have serious printing errors. Dialogue on the right of the panels is reprinted in word balloons on the left. The left balloons shouldn’t even be there, as there’s no one to speak. The conversation on page 8, panel 2, is repeated verbatim within the panel. The entire sequence involves a police officer talking with his superior over a video screen. Although the panels switch back and forth between the two men’s locations, there are no dividing panel line or even separate panels. . .

Oh wait, I think they’re supposed to be in the same room, back-to-back, but talking over their video screens. Yeah, that’s supposed to be a joke about the bureaucracy that’s strangling society. Ha. Subtle. Otherwise, it’s a shame such a high-profile release would have such a terrible and obvious mistake.

OK, I now upgrade the score to . If you’re not a Legion fan, go check this out. You could be hooked for the long-term. IF you already are a fan, well, you may not like the new direction. Best be content with the stories written by Paul Levitz, Keith Giffen, or a 13-year-old Jim Shooter.

Shawn Hill

Plot: The Legion, with ambiguous support from the United Planets, battles a giant robot on Earth and then faces a civil uprising on Lallor.

What’s interesting: The principal excitement here comes from the mix between the familiar and the new. Waid and Kitson have taken on a challenging job, mixing up the flaws of the past with the doubts of the future. It’s a culture shock issue for a long-time Legion fan, as many familiarities of the Reboot Era have fallen aside. These are not the same characters as Spark or Chameleon or Star Boy that we’ve been reading about since Zero Hour, though many of them look at least similar.

It doesn’t seem to be just changing for the sake of change, however, as Waid and Kitson have an interesting take on the 31st century and on the role of youth in it. Their argument seems to be the traditional one of teen rebellion vs. parental conformity, but without the neutered sexuality of the early Reboot. Light Lass seems especially randy, and one gets the feeling that relationships and personal intrigues are bubbling under the surface waiting only for us to take note of them as they develop. Waid and Kitson’s not quite blank slate promises to at least give us some fresh combinations, and go off in different directions than the last version of this group.

Most interesting: Kitson’s art is integral to formulating this series in this crucial early stage, and I can only hope he sticks around for a while. His future-tech (always an important component in LSH) is seamless and streamlined, and he seems quite capable of differentiating such a large cast of characters.

Never having been 100% on board with the reboot or DnA era teams (lots of strengths, but several storytelling weaknesses as well), I’m quite open to a fresh take on the concept. So far, the hit and miss ratio between preserving the best of the past while adding a sense of freshness is favorable. While “Rebel without a cause” isn’t the freshest idea ever for a funny book, these rebels do indeed seem to have a cause.

James Redington

The Good:
Self Contained story
Barry Kitson's Art
Mark Waid's dialogue

The Bad:
Boring front cover

Review: I must admit I am not a keen follower of The Legion. I brought the last few issues of the last series because Superboy was in them, and I quite enjoyed what I read. It seemed like fun.

This comic is very serious, not a bad thing - in fact there are the odd joke and self reference which were mildly amusing. I read it, read it again and didn't really get it. I understood the story and liked the dialogue and interaction between characters, but it seemed to lack something which I still haven't discovered. Heck, I even got Keely (my girlfriend) to read it to see if she “got” it. (Also, I thought as an experiment as it’s a new series with a new 1st issue, it would be good to test it against a new reader.) She really didn’t understand what was happening or why.

Barry Kitson is great as always. There are some great splashes and good character work. Mark Waid’s dialogue is good, the characters work well together, but I don’t know enough of The Legion to know whether they are “in” character. I thought the cover was too simple. It is well drawn, but just boring and very plain.

While I am not completely convinced on the series I will buy the next few issues at least to see where it goes. Past that we will have to wait and see.

Conclusion: Entertaining issue, but it felt weighted down by me not having previous knowledge of The Legion. Maybe not for new readers.

Jason Sacks

I should have known to trust Mark Waid. I should have known that the man who has written one of my favorite runs on Fantastic Four, who wrote Kingdom Come and JLA Year One and Empire, wouldn’t let me down. But I didn’t trust him. I started reading Legion of Super-Heroes #1 with a little bit of low expectation. Waid’s incarnation of the Legion was about the fourth or fifth revival of the characters, this one coming close on the heels of a previous Legion series. I thought maybe the concepts were played out, or that the sheer number of heroes in the book might be too overwhelming for most writers.

I should have trusted Mark Waid. The latest Legion of Super-Heroes is a fun ride, a wonderfully clever and interesting take on some very old characters. It seems the future is a very nice place, calm and stable and boring as hell. The society is fine for the adults, but the teenagers are, as they often are, bored and rebellious. These teenagers also possess great super-powers, like to put on costumes, and adore the heroic age of heroes of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman. And like many teenagers, they also get in trouble with authority.

Waid does a great job of balancing the need to introduce an enormous cast with the need to set up extended plotlines. We meet arrogant Sun Boy, headstrong Star Boy (now an African-American, a nice touch), geeky Brainiac 5 and the new Colossal Boy - or should I call him Micro Lad? We also learn about the tensions between the authorities and the Legion, and learn that this Legion is definitely not your father’s Legion.

Barry Kitson does a great job showing the Legion’s far-flung future. He makes the future look clean and streamlined, full of clean lines and futuristic geegaws. He’s also terrific at illustrating characters’ faces, making each character look distinct from the other.

The new Legion is a real winner. Trust Mark Waid. Not to mention Barry Kitson.

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