Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Comics: Legion of Super-Heroes 1 & 2

I wasn't originally going to even pick up Waid and Kitson's revamp of the Legion. Initially, I kind of thought this was a "wait for the trade" book for me. While I love a lot of what Waid has done in the past (Empire, his Flash run, his issues of Ruse), he has a strong tendency to cross the line between using the past as a springboard for ideas and wallowing in the past for the sake of nostalgia. I wasn't sure where the Legion book would end up in this spectrum, so I initially decided to pass on it in favor of seeing how it went.

Good reviews, however, can change a man's mind. So, with the high marks that this book received from some of the reviewers at the left, I decided to pick it up and see for myself if it was worth getting.

Some "true confession" time here. I've never been a huge fan of the Legion. I remember getting some old back issues of "Superboy and the Legion" when I was a kid from somewhere, and I thought they were cool, but I never really read the book. By the time I started into weekly trips to the comic book store, Legion continuity had reached the point of X-Men continuity as far as ludicrousness and exclusivity, so I never really got into it then. I DID start picking it up during the "reboot" era, but after a while it felt like the writers were going through motions and maybe "re-telling" old stories with some kind of twist to keep the fans happy.

Given that, I have to say that Waid has sucked me in with these first two issues. I was astounded by how much he was able to cram into just two quick stories -AND that there were actually TWO stories in TWO issues. That doesn't seem to happen nearly as often as it should.

Some semi-spoilerish summary for those who haven't read the issues:

Issue 1 is an "introduction to the Legion" issue, but thankfully it isn't a "origin issue." We get enough information from it to find out that the Legion is both some kind of youth movement and a group of government-sanctioned peacekeepers who work outside the usual police channels. The law enforcement arm of the government (the Science Police) hate them, while the governing body of the United Planets is apparently trying to co-opt their popularity for their own ends. We get a nice snapshot of what life in the early 31st century is like as well as some all-out action sequences and a vision of the lengths that the people of the 31st century will go to to preserve their "utopia."

Issue 2 is a character piece, delving into the characters of both Braniac 5 and Dream Girl. The Legion investigates why the children of Naltor are unable to sleep and dream precognitive dreams. Again we get to see what the people of the 31st century will do not just to protect their utopia, but to protect their children from the real world.

First of all, these books are really nicely designed. I love the cover design even if it seems like it SHOULD be screaming "retro" at me. The layouts are clear and crisp and make the story easy to follow. The coloring is a little bland for my taste - it seems like it should be brighter for some reason - but its not really substandard.

The stories in these issues really blew me away. I certainly wasn't expecting anything like what I read despite the reviews I'd read for both of these issues. The idea of the Legion being both a peace-keeping force AND a youth movement is interesting to me, despite me being at the age where youth movements would no longer accept me as a member. Its a tactic that certainly seems like it should lead to some interesting stories, even if the youth movement is basically the superhero universe equivalent of the "Society for Creative Anachronism."

From other reviews that I've read I thought that I might be turned off by the series "looking backward." Some reviewers had made it seem like the Legion was a group of kids who were looking back to "better times" when superheroes roamed the Earth keeping the world safe from harm. I thought that this might be another bit of "navel-gazing" into comic-book history that Waid has done on occasion. While I've enjoyed some of them (notably Kingdom Come), its a theme that I think lends itself too much to "times were better then" thinking that I've come to dislike intensely [1].

Thankfully, though, this does not seem to be the case. At least with these first two issues, Waid seems to be taking a different track than "times were better then." The kids are "bored" with the utopia that their ancestors have built and that their parents and grandparents generation maintain, but boredom does not seem to be the motivating factor leading these kids to become the Legion. Instead, it seems to be the struggle against what their parents have done to keep them safe and secure versus their own ability to express themselves, to be individuals, and to live their lives free.

An example of this is the idea of the "Public Service." Waid hasn't fleshed this out much so far, but it appears to be some kind of network that not only keeps track of where each kid is at all times, it also tracks what they see and what they hear. Given what we find out about the "modifications" that Naltor made to their "Public Service" in issue 2, I suspect that the "big brother-ish" nature of the Service extends to not only tracking what the kids see and do but preventing them from seeing or doing anything that is not approved. Its insidious, but not a stretch to believe that in a thousand years such a thing might be possible. And its also not a stretch to believe that parents would push to have such a thing in place to track their children. Is it any wonder then that the primary use for the Legion flight ring is actually to block the connection to the Service so that the kids can live their own lives?

The book does not seem to be just about young/old conflicts, however. There's a strong political vibe running through the first few issues. The Legion is a sanctioned arm of the United Planets government as well as a youth movement, and there are conflicts from that as well. The arguments between what is "right" and what is "pragmatic" comes to the forefront in the first issue as Cosmic Boy and Sun Boy debate that very issue while Sun Boy and his team attempt to save the youth of Lallor from a very Tienamen Square-like massacre. The optimism of youth wins out, of course, but it will be interesting to see if Waid follows this up with repercussions for the Legion's actions on Lallor [2].

Finally, I want to make a comment on the story structure. Each issue tells a self-contained story, which I think is a great move by both Waid and DC to get folks to read this book. I didn't feel like I had to plan to commit $18 to read the first Legion story issue by issue. Instead, I have a $3 commitment to picking up the first issue. If I like it, I can come back for more (which I will be doing, I think). And, since I know that I'll get a full story for my $3, I'm not really tempted to "wait for the trade" instead of picking up the individual issues. This is really what the industry needs to do if they expect me to pick up single-issues - give me some real value for my money. Don't make it "part 1 of 8", especially when the book is starting out and needs to grow a fanbase.

[1] Mainly because it seems to be coming from the "Baby Boomer" generation who thinks, for some reason, things were better in the 60's than they are now. Look, I've read enough about the era to know that drug use was rampant, teen pregnancy was high, and racism and intolerance were outrageous. I refuse to believe that the 60's (or the 50's, 40's, 30's whatever) were in any way superior to where we are now. In many ways previous decades were far, far worse than anything we have right now, despite the wars, intolerance, bad television, and general mass hysteria the country and the world is going through right now. Because of that, I try to watch out for that kind of thinking coming from folks in MY generation and beat them senseless when I see it.

[2] Not that I think that what the Legion did on Lallor is wrong by any stretch. However, its obvious that given the situation that Waid set up, there SHOULD be some repercussions from this and if he lets those pass by he's missing some good opportunities for stories.

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