Monday, August 26, 2013

Review: Legion Of Super-Heroes #23

Legion of Super-Heroes #23 came out last week ... the end of the Legion.

There certainly have been blips and pauses in the Legion's history, some months without stories of this storied team. But somehow this one seems more final. In a New 52 world painted only grimy and gritty, an optimistic future and a team like the Legion seems out of place. Even some creators have talked about the Leigion as if it were toxic, Keith Giffen swearing that JLA3K will be nothing like the Legion and there won't  be visits to Braal (as if the planet's name is a dirty word).

That's right, a darker and grimmer JLA3K will take the place of the Legion.

Perhaps what is sadder is that this title tried to become rougher, filling the last story with meaningless death and destruction, trying to shove the square peg of the Legion into the round hole of the New 52. As a result, this last Legion story is about as un-Legion as you can get. It truly saddens me that this issue is the headstone for the franchise because there is no optimism, no team spirit, no love in this issue. And for those Legion fans who have stuck it out, we at least deserved that. Instead we got death, despair, and disbanding.

Sure there are some familiar beats and one major continuity wrinkle but the thing that stuck out for me was some of the dialogue here. There are plenty of lines that sound like they could be coming from writer Paul Levitz or even long time readers, lamenting what has happened to this team and, metatextually, this book.

The art here is by one of my favorites Kevin Maguire and he brings his usual panache of facial expression and clean lines. I wonder if he got this gig because he was originally named as the artist for JLA3K before the title was considered too dark for him.

This book ended. The Legion are basically in comic limbo right now. And I didn't even get a 'Long Live the Legion!' Enough intro. On to the book.

The book starts on Shanghalla, the floating cemetery for heroes. Polar Boy and Invisible Kid are mourning Sun Boy, whose head was crushed in a crash and whose body was eaten by aliens. Dream Girl is mourning the passing of her beloved Star Boy, who was killed by falling debris while the team tried to escape Earth.

Do either of those deaths sound heroic? Or maybe asking differently, did those characters deserve a 'better' death?

But it was Dream Girl's line that stuck out to me ... words I have thought and word I bet Levitz said himself. In her worst nightmares, she never foretold a future as desolate as this one. I hear you Nura. I do. Because this is about as dark a Legion I have read outside of the 5YL series (which I know I liked).

We then head to Earth which appears to simply be a pile of rubble. Maybe the 31st century has a bunch of Wall-E's to cube it all up.

As much as I thought the deaths of Star Boy and Sun Boy were meaningless, I think the loss of Phantom Girl seems cruel. Phantom Girl had just been elected Legion Leader when this storyline erupted. At the time I thought it was a great pick. Tinya is level-headed and a veteran. This would be her chance to shine.

Instead, the last memory we have of her is crying, completely hysterical, as she takes a one way trip back to Bgztl. And Ultra Boy, her long-time love, has to hold on to hope that she is alive somewhere. As it is, Colossal Boy thinks that Yera is dead because she was part of the Legion Lost gang, still marooned in present time, yet another sad ending for those characters.

In the meantime, Brainiac 5 has a plan to bring it all back together. This seems to be motivated out of guilt as we learn it is original Brainiac tech that made Tharok so formidable. When he complains that Shadow Lass is taking Mon-El away to help him heal (yet another lousy ending for an esteemed Legionnaire, ripped to pieces and in a coma), Luornu puts him in his place. He isn't the leader so he should stop acting like it.

There has always been history between these two. And Brainiac does seem to have a knack for unleashing horrors onto the universe - Computo and Omega included. So I like that she has the guts to confront him ngrily but then has that anguished look in the last panel - classic Maguire. If any Legionnaire has improved in the recent years, it's Luornu. She is tough!

I also think that Maguire cues you in on which clone this is of Luornu by the number of holes in her boot.

Sifting through the rubble of the destroyed Legion headquarters, Bouncing Boy finds Superman's shirt, one that has been speared. At first I thought it might be from the famous death duel with Doomsday, explaining why they formed the Legion in a Superboy-less New 52. But more on this later.

Ahat did strike me was Brainy's line, again which I think is some meta-textual jab by Levitz. Why do we have to worry about an irrelevant past ... that being DC's present. He's right. This current DCU feels irrelevant. And the gritty present seems like poor soil to grow something like the Legion from.

As if things weren't bad enough, Science Police officer Gigi Cusimano arrives to say the United Planets are disbanding the Legion. That's that.

This is the last page of the story proper. No rallying cry to stay together and fight evil. No 'you can't kill an idea; Long Live The Legion!"


The last page is Cusimano telling a distraught Element Lad that the Legion is over, as she walks amidst what remains of their headquarters.

Is this really the ending this book, this team, this franchise deserved?

Does even this book have to end downbeat, bleak as the door closes on it?

Levitz does give us some epilogues to roll through our heads.

First is Nura, feeling out of place on Naltor.

Again, is she speaking for Levitz or me when she says the whole thing feels like a bad dream.

And then the curveball.Dou Damsel and Bouncing Boy talk about how maybe on other universes the Legion is doing better. That maybe everything is brighter and more hopeful. After all, in this universe, Superman was killed by Steppenwolf!

Wait a second ....

That means that in this New 52, the Legion is set in Earth 2's future.

It seems wrong that the Legion can't exist as the primary future for DC's main Earth any longer. Of course, this opens the door for JLA3K to be written on a blank slate with no worries of Legion continuity.

But this opens up some cans of worms. The Legion's continuity has seemed to be unaffected by most timeline-altering events like Crisis, Infinite Crisis, and the New 52. But this puts in a big wrinkle. How do we corroborate past stories? Or do we not?

Does this mean Brainiac 5 had a crush on the Earth 2 Supergirl, now Power Girl? Does this mean the Legion Lost characters not only went back in time but jumped Earths as well? They definitely were on the prime Earth.

I still think it feels wrong, like a slap in the face that this team which has been around for 5 decades isn't worthy of the future's top billing any more.

At least Levitz ends it with the original three, relaxing on Winath.

But again he waxes philosophical, wondering if this timeline is the only one or if the Legion lives elsewhere, in other universes and other dreams. I would hate to think that this is the end of the characters. In my mind, this is so poor an ending, I might try to forget all this happened.

I bet Levitz also thinks about other places and worlds where the Legion can remain a team for good in a bright and positive future land.

As I said, this isn't the first time the Legion has been shelved. The Baxter series ended with the Magic Wars storyline, opening the door for the more dystopian Five Years Later run. The stories are similar in tone. In this arc, technology stops working because magic  takes over, leaving the galaxy in ruins even after the enemy is vanquished. But look at the end page of that series, the Legionnaires together, proud and strong, reunited and ready to still fight the never-ending battle. This is a far cry from a small Element Lad trudging through garbage.

And so a chapter of my comic life comes to an end. My guess is the Legion characters are going to be considered too toxic to touch for a while. Heck. maybe there will be a true Five Years Later. Maybe in 2018, someone at DC will realize that there is a whole team of characters with great history and depth collecting dust, a team worth another chance.

Look, I wholly admit that this book, while under Levitz, has been pretty stale for the last several years. But I don't think the characters need to be completely shelved.

And I certainly think they deserved much better than this.

Overall grade: C-


AndNowInStereo said...

So I guess as far as weeks in comics go, it never rains, but it pours, freezes over and kicks you in the ass, Anj.

Siskoid said...

That pretty much sums up my feelings about this whimper of an ending.

Jay said...

I still don't believe JL3K is somehow a replacement for the Prime Earth Legion. Especially if its a failure. But even if the book is a success, I truly believe that the Prime Earth Legion, now known to only have been seen in New 52 form in the pages of Morrison's Action, will be back, if not in their own title then tied to the Superman titles once again.

Anj said...

Thanks for early comments.

Jay, thanks for reminding me about the Legion's appearance in Morrison's Action run. It definitely makes it murkier for them to be purely E2.

I still think DC doesn't quite 'get' their history. It isn't all new since the New 52. So what goes where?

Siskoid - whimper is the perfect word for this.

And yes Thomas, it was a rough week. Although Vibe and Superman Unchained helped even things out.

Martin Gray said...

Amen Anj, amen - a truly depressing end for what was once DC's brightest team.

I'm calling Mopee on this one ...

Anonymous said...

Well, finally, it's over. This book has been put out of it's misery. I can box up this series and never see it again.

I was so excited when not one or two but three Legion books were on the horizon. Now, the last one falls.

The Legion gives one so much to work with. I hope Geoff Johns gets a hold of it and makes it great again.

Dave Mullen said...

Look, I wholly admit that this book, while under Levitz, has been pretty stale for the last several years. But I don't think the characters need to be completely shelved.
No, after the Fatal Five arc changed their environment I think the book could have gone anywhere. It was all rather exciting as nothing was safe and comfortable anymore for the 31st century.
The could still do it, pick it up where Levitz left it and the world now radically different. But I think if hope will come from anywhere it sill be from the Superman books. The Legion need that traditional anchor to keep them relevant to readers and the DCU.

I must say I didn't like the hint of Earth-2, for one thing it makes no sense whatsoever with what we have been reading and for another it further complicates a concept that really doesn't need this baggage.
It is incredible to look at the DCU, not even two years on from the reboot, and consider just how unbelievably convoluted and complex many of these characters have become. All thanks to some bizarre and thoughtless decisions....

Diabolu Frank said...

"That's right, a darker and grimmer JLA3K will take the place of the Legion."

No, it will not.

Conspiracy theory: Writing Legion of Super-Heroes was part of Paul Levitz's golden parachute, so canceling the book and letting it become less "radioactive" is in part an excuse to take the kids away from him.

Anonymous said...

I started reading the Legion in 2010, having been intrigued by their appearances in the Super-titles during the New Krypton crossover. I was instantly hooked, and I began accumulating a massive Legion collection mostly from the dollar bins at conventions. I now own almost all of the Archive editions and everything else up until the Five Year Later reboot. There is such excitement in reading these stories for the very first time. With the cancelling of this volume of the Legion, my New 52 pull list, which once numbered 25 monthly DC titles, has gone down to zero. But the Legion will always live on in back issues. The same with Supergirl. The great thing about comics is that if you don't like one iteration of any given title, character, or team, there is always a wealth of great stories from the past.

Dave Mullen said...

Conspiracy theory: Writing Legion of Super-Heroes was part of Paul Levitz's golden parachute, so canceling the book and letting it become less "radioactive" is in part an excuse to take the kids away from him.

I like that theory, It would explain just why the management was near non-existent and the strange game of artistic musical chairs being played out over the last year or so.

Really if you look at it impartially Legion is far far from the only book to stink in terms of quality and sink into welcome cancellation, what is unusual about it is the utter lack of effort put into saving it. As if they couldn't wait to see the back of it.

Anj said...

Great comments. Thanks everybody.

The conspiracy theory is a fascinating one Frank and just crazy enough to be true. I still get the sense that DC thinks the Legion is considered 'old fashioned' and therefore toxic in the current market.

I can't believe DC didn't try to shake it up to save it. I can't believe there won't be a Legion book for a while.

Diabolu Frank said...

I started writing the umpteenth reboot in my brain while in the shower yesterday. A seemingly omniscient narrator discusses various points of interest in the dystopian 31st century for several pages. Then the "camera" pans past the backs of the first half dozen or so Legionnaires, on to an auditorium full of UP diplomats. Next, the view rotates to reveal Cosmic Boy continuing to deliver his speech, where he rejects this present and demands the UP help him correct the future or get out of his way. Spend five issues on a flashback to the three founders' origins & R.J. Brande's struggles to do good in spite of the UP until they all meet up. Spend the rest of the series subverting the darkness of every other damned New 52 book by being funny, humanist, optimistic, and generally fulfilling Cos' declaration of intent to fix the universe.

J'onn J'onzz, Martian Manhunter said...

I disagree with one thing about this post. The new Justice League 3000 book is VERY unlikely to be "darker and grimmer." I understand why you might have this assumption, as the Levitz Legion was cancelled 15 years ago in favor of a darker Legion from Giffen, but this time it's a Giffen/DeMatteis Justice League book, and the interview I read made it seem like it's likely to be one of their "bwa-ha-ha" comedy books. At any rate, while I do enjoy their style and will be picking up the book, I am tragically not going to be able to continue to read the Legion.

One other point I'd like to comment on is when you discussed the effects of major timeline altering events on the Legion. Is Zero Hour entirely retconned out of existence at this point? All the nonsense with Monarch might not fit into the current versions of the Hawk and Dove/Captain Atom characters, although I'm not sure since I haven't read their New 52 books. But it's hard to know for sure since DC did not explain their back-continuity with a "History of the DC Universe" book like they did after the changes of "Crisis on Infinite Earths", nor did they issue a list of which stories are and aren't canon. Because of all this confusion, is it even possible for the Archie Legion to have ever happened in some parallel universe? Or in the main DC Universe, since there's no Legion there anymore? Or did it not happen at all, and has been totally retconned away by first the Threeboot, then the New 52's overhaul of all 52 universes. Basically, nothing is clear about the Legion's past. What universe is the Threeboot set in now? Are the post-Infinite Crisis pre-Levitz Legion stories establishing the pre-New 52 status quo (ex the Lightning Saga and Legion of 3 Earths) still canon? Are all the stories with Superboy canon? Was Superman even Superboy in the New 52 Universe? Did he travel through dimensions to visit them, or is there a Superboy of Earth-2? Unfortunately, this newest decision has only further muddled the Legion continuity. A great team utterly mucked up by editorial meddling. They never should've rebooted the book to begin with. However, since Keith Giffen destroyed the Earth, killed a large number of characters, shifted the focus over to the clones of the Legion rather than the real Legion, and even considered at one point revealing that the real Legion WERE clones, I suppose they wanted to undo his changes and return to a more traditional Legion. The problem is, those old stories don't just go away, and neither do their fans. The fans such as myself demanded a return of the pre-Zero Hour Legion for years. But what did we get? A few years of OK stories from Paul Levitz. He's done better, but this run is extremely over-criticized online. Many think he should've retired a long time ago and handed it over to someone with a flair for more modern storytelling. Thank god they didn't. Can you imagine a modern New 52 grim and gritty Legion? It would undoubtedly be FAR worse than Giffen's run, which at least had occasional good art and a decent enough story. It would've destroyed the book's reputation. I'd rather it just rest for a while at this point, because unfortunately the failure of this Levitz run has proven that the Legion community is no longer large or supportive enough to support him or the classic Legion enough for it to stay on the market.