Monday, August 7, 2017

Supergirl and the Legion of Super Heroes #16

Legion of Super Jerks, is more like it

Writer – Mark Waid
Penciller – Barry Kitson
Inker – Mick Gray
Letters –Phil Balsman
Colors – Nathan Eyring
Asst. Editor – Harvey Richards
Editor – Stephen Wacker
May 2006

How do I approach this version of the Legion of Super Heroes? Mark Waid offered his take on the team, and I generally like stuff that Waid gets his grubby little fingers on. I enjoyed his Flash work especially. As for Barry Kitson, I fell in love with his art from the first issue of L.E.G.I.O.N. #1. DC created that book as a retcon precursor to the 31 century Legion of Super Heroes with a more shady moral tone.

Yet even the jerks that populated L.E.G.I.O.N. lose in a contest against this version of the Legion of Super Heroes. 

My history with the Legion is kind of rocky. Growing up I had three exposures to the team, all of them probably from the insides of three packs of DC comics. One was vol. 1, issue 230, The Creature Who Conned the Legion with a backup story called The Day Bouncing Boy Bounced Back

The second was vol. 1, issue 227, War at World’s End!

The third was vol. 1, issue 224, When Stargrave Strikes!. 

While I enjoyed those issues, I found that I never connected with the characters. The Legion, for the few of you who don’t know, is a hodge-podge of superpowered alien teenagers who tool around the 31 century fighting alien bad guys and saving the universe. They were inspired by Superboy’s example and went back in time to invite him to hang out in the with them, essentially fucking up continuity and a young SoC’s mind.

Because, you know, if Superboy is in the future, but he grows up to become Superman then how is Superman in the past? And how long does he spend there before going home? And while that might not matter because they can return him minutes after he left, what about the fact that he will age in the future and that will mean he will actually be older when he returns, assuming he ages at a normal human rate?

But more importantly: why so many characters?

I was an Avengers kid. I know groups have expanded rosters at times. I get that there can be reserve members that pop in for guest appearances. However, even to my ten-year-old brain, the massive size of the Legion seemed like a cop out. They had what felt like a hundred plus members. To start with, that’s a bunch of superpowers for a writer to come up with weekly challenges that seem interesting and perilous. Take that “everything but the kitchen sink approach” to superpowers and then add in Superboy, who has all the powers of Superman, and it feels like way overkill.

By that I mean from a storytelling perspective you have to leave out vast numbers of characters because they would take down whatever monthly menace the team faces before anyone is in jeopardy. Which would be boring. And you must rotate out individuals so you don’t go too many issues without showing someone’s favorite character or you lose parts of your audience. And EVERY issue centers around Superboy in some way, like no adventures happen unless he’s in the room.

Let alone the intricate backstory each character has and love interests. It’s just a lot to juggle.

I know that ten seems young, but part of me got this all from those three issues. I eschewed a fandom with the Legion because I knew it would only end in heartbreak. I’d pick a favorite (Bouncing Boy) and then that character wouldn’t show up for ten issues and I’d be disappointed with each successive month of reading Legion. Why pick up a book in the hope of catching a glimpse who you are buying the book for? Better to stick with Avengers or the Fantastic Four, where I knew who was on the team each week.

Even the comic luminaries of the time couldn’t sway me. Those issues above included top names like Mike Grell, Joe Staton, Gerry Conway and Jim Shooter. Still I didn’t bite.

I’ve read the reviews over at Chris is on Infinite Earth’s site to know he and I really missed out. There were some great story arcs in those Legion books from the looks of things.

So when this Supergirl and the Legion of Super Heroes showed up in the Crapbox, I was intrigued. Perhaps this was the book that would finally hook me into the Legion mythos. I love Waid’s work and Kitson’s art has always impressed me. Supergirl seemed like a natural replacement for Superboy in the more diverse 00’s. I recalled that fan chatter at the time of the book’s release was astoundingly negative, centering a bunch on the superficial treatment given to the Legion characters at the expense of time spent on Supergirl. Additionally, the emotional subplots annoyed some long-time fans. I’d argue both these points fit old Legion continuity as well, but I’m not a fan, so I can’t.

Now Waid did draw some really rotten straws for this run including a Superboy tied up in a legal battle in the real world that excluded his use from all DC books, edicts from on high that he not use the flavor of the prior version of the team and that he make the Legion “accessible” to new readers, a different creative team using characters from the Legion in Justice League in a way that didn’t quite jib with his versions and people like me, who always thought the Legion was too top-heavy in characters, backstory and convoluted continuity to invest in.

That’s a lot to overcome.

And while I don’t like his Legion, I understand their story. Would I buy this issue or issues like it? No. Not my cup of tea. It’s not that there are too many of them this time, though. My disconnect with Waid’s Legion originates from a completely different source. Let’s go find out what that is.

We begin with a single ordinary citizen of Waid’s 31 century who is outraged at seeing the Legion outside his domicile. This person appears to represent most of the non-powered people of Earth. Except for teenagers, the planet consists of introverted killjoys who want nothing more than to waste away in front of their holoscreens. People repress their emotions and avoid contact with one another. Waid paints his future in this drab, Orwellian-lite version of a dystopia.

Note how big a deal this guy makes over having to GO OUTSIDE to confront them. Never mind that the major infraction the Legion members against them constitutes nothing more extreme than standing outside according to his dialogue on this first page. Not to mention the fact that he bundles up like the sun itself is his enemy. 

This is Waid’s future, a departure from the sunny utopias of many past Legion incarnations. It makes you wonder why the kids even care about saving civilization.

His Legion members act in similar fashion: rude, self-righteous, and immature. I get that their rebellious teenagers, but couldn’t they act with a little courtesy? Adults are “cranky” and we call them “Grandpa” because we are edgy and cool or make fun of them when their back is turned.

Also that appears to be a member of the science police they are casually throwing back and forth. To my recollection, the science police was the local constablery in the Legion books, so this guy’s concern is kind of warranted, thus making the mocking all the more assholey.

EVEN IF, as Light Lass points out, they are now acting officers of the law…

Ultraboy finally unveils that this chap is an alien terrorist up to no good and which should make things okay right up until Shadow Lass STEALS his Goggles.

Which causes our upset “Grandpa” to roust the entire building against the Legion, as well it should. The issue at hand really seems to zoom right over Klar’s head though. It isn’t that the Legion is “colorful” so much as it is populated by smart-ass jerks. And note that these are the “personable” Legionaries, not someone like Brainac 5 who lacks empathy and emotions.

For those of us following Supergirl to this new Legion, this is our introduction to the crew she will be joining. I have to say that the ONLY place I want this story to go is with her showing these nitwits a bit about courtesy and kindness toward others. THAT would be a story I’d want to read. We don’t get that. I’ve seen later issues. It’s a teenage soap opera with some battles thrown in.

Instead we see the Legion becoming a role model for young kids everywhere, producing an entire new generation of jerkwads.

One thing I am digging as always is Kitson’s art. Man, does he understand how to use clean lines and minimal pencils to convey images. Look at Chameleon’s (not Chameleon Boy as prior Legions have named him) face in that top shot. Or Klar’s brow below it. And the shot of Light Lass ascending is so graceful along with the swirl in Shadow Lass’s cape.

Is some of this funny? I suppose. On first read through I laughed quite a bit at Klar going to his neighbor’s house and beating on the door until he answered it. The neighbor proceeded to act like the door was still closed and talked to Klar by looking at him on his door surveillance monitor while stating he was confused. If Klar wanted to talk to him, why didn’t he go back home and call him. Bits like that worked for me, in the silly and understandable manner that this is where our society is headed.

However, turning the Legion into a grouping of trash-talking culture-warrior anti-heroes takes things too far in my opinion.

Luckily for us, Waid gives this new gang something to do. Ambassador Ardeen contacts the Legion about this space comet thingie…

…as it passes close to Neptune…

…on a collision course with…you guessed it: Earth. Oh, and it appears that this massively fast thing contains…

Okay, it doesn’t contain that. There’s this weird thing going on here that I can’t quite explain. There are actually TWO objects, but knowing that at this point in the story spoils a reveal at the end. However, NOT knowing it means the ending of this is a total screwed up mess.

Meanwhile the jerks…er, Legionniares drop off their captive and even that doesn’t go well. First Ultraboy tosses him into the station hard enough to cause a huge commotion and to break even 21 century laws of cruel and unusual punishment. It also earns him and Chameleon zero points with the local police.

There’s a bit about Cos (Cosmic Boy) deciding to relinquish leadership amid all of these teenagers showing up to make Legion headquarters their home, but enough of that. On to our climatic ending (which makes no sense if you think there is just one object).

So the Legion goes into space to stop the object from screwing up Earth, which we all know will be Supergirl because of all the evidence we’ve been shown…

…but it isn’t. It’s a tremendously large bullet-shaped rocket ship of death. Because – Fooled ya! Yes, this is just Waid flat out lying to us. Either way the Legion has to stop it from impacting and taking out Metropolis.

And of course, everyone jumps in to do their part, except it just isn’t enough…

Sadly, Colossal Boy’s flight ring is damaged in all this, exposing him to the airless vacuum of space. Now the Legion has two issues to deal with. But it is too late for one of them, as the weapon enters the atmosphere.

A second missile appears beside it suddenly.

Oh, it’s Supergirl (yawn!). I’m sorry. The red herring of the Dominator missile really hacked me off. Poor writing Waid! Don’t lie to your audience next time.

Also with ONE PUNCH she destroys the missile thingie, which harkens back to the days of the old legion, where Superboy was pretty much powerful enough to do the job of the entire Legion without breaking a sweat. She does look super-cute here though.

And she also employs Super-MANNERS here, the one essential superpower the Legion is lacking. THIS is where I hope the next issues of this version goes, with Supergirl trying to show by example how these rebellious and overly arrogant teens can become GOOD role models for the future’s citizens.

But first…a sub-plot. 

Supergirl doesn’t believe she’s really in the Future. She thinks she’s undergoing some kind of Kryptonian puberty where they have an amazingly realistic dream and that the Legion and this future is all a part of that. Ugh! The one character I hoped I’d like in all this and she ends up a raving loony.

Waid made it as far as issue 30 of this version of the Legion, so the good news is that there is only fourteen more of these to go. They aren’t in the Crapbox that I can tell, but you never know when something like this will jump out at you.

Only the future can tell if I will see any more of these.

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