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Legion Of Super Heroes #1

Legion of SuperHeroes #1
Brian Michael Bendis Writer
Ryan Sook Artist
Ryan Sook and Wade Von Grawbadger Inkers
Jordie Bellaire Colorist
Dave Sharpe Letterer

Late to the party as always!

This review may contain spoilers.

In which Brian Michael Bendis, Ryan Sook, and company further introduce us to a reimagined Legion of Super Heroes, a team which has been missing in action for several years, by dropping us into the middle of the action, and I’m excited by it! Opinions will vary widely because, to badly paraphrase French Surrealist Andre Breton, art will be subjective or not at all.

The plot in a nutshell is as follows. Bendis drops readers into the middle of events as Jo Nah catches up with a small ring of criminals, members of a non humanoid called the Horraz, who’ve murdered to obtain an ancient artifact of power which they intend to sell or trade with the new version of Mordru, one of the Legion’s biggest enemies throughout its long history. A small contingent of Legionnaires appear just in time to vex the plan just as Superboy and Saturn Girl arrive at Legion headquarters after departing the 21st century. Superboy’s wide eyed wonderment is a plot device Bendis makes good use of to allow artist Ryan Sook full reign to tease readers visually before the threatening return of the Horraz. More on these spreads below.

In my opinion Bendis strikes a good balance between action and set up while also adding in lots of mystery and clues to be revealed in the months ahead. Mysteries such as how did the Legion form and how long have they been a team; who are the Horraz; why United Planet’s General Crav Nah, Jo’s father, being overprotective of his son; is the Legion now lawbreakers for bringing Superboy from the past and if so, what will be the consequence for doing so? And how much worse will the fallout be when Damien visits 31st century Metropolis? Madamhonor President does not look pleased though one wonders if she ever does.

Bendis and Sook have captured the essential elements of the Legion which to me are a sense of optimism and camaraderie. To be sure, there were hints of this in trio of Superman and Supergirl issues leading up to this first issue, but one could easily forget them in the wake of the pair of Millennium issues of which reader reactions ran the gamut.

Now we’d already been given clues in promo art, etc this Legion was fully formed though turning pages still gave me a schock and by that I mean it was thrilling! Certainly it’s understandable if this isn’t your reaction. One of the difficulties Legion has been faced with over many years is the learning curve new readers faced with by a very large cast and it’s a point raised by some readers over the past several days. Trust me, I understand. It’s my reaction to all the numerous X-Men titles. “What?!” I hear you exclaim! “You’re not reading X-Men? Hickman is amazing!” Sorry, no, and you’ll have to pry my gay nerd card from my proverbial cold, dead hands. Ahem. The difference for me is that the story between these two covers has piqued my curiosity the same way my very first comic, Adventure #356, did way back in June 1967. To say that I really want to know everything about all these characters is an understatement! (Even if I have vague reservations about Fate and Gold Lantern.)

Brainiac 5 can’t be the only one with a sense of humor, can he?

Most important of all – which Legionnaires are in relationships? Romance has been a staple component of the Legion whether it was Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad starting back in the early Edmond Hamilton and John Forte period to Chuck and Luornu to Vi and Ayla and Power Boy and Gravity Kid. Will we see any of the previous couples together in this new setting? Who’s LGBTQ among all these characters? To take that question a bit further, how has Bendis conceived sexuality and personal relationships in his concept for the 31st century? To learn that every character is heteronormative will be a huge disappointment.

A couple points that are of possible concern. First, Bendis seems to emphasize on making connections to the 21st century and the “Age of Heroes”. Mentions of Bludhaven, a scene in Gotham, Star Boy’s familiarity with 21st century English expressions, and a certain artifact associated with Aquaman. Then he’s added a new Dr Fate and a Gold Lantern to the team. Certainly every pre Crisis Legion version had (limited) ties to the 20th century with Superboy, Supergirl, Superman, and the occasional appearance in Jimmy Olsen or Lois Lane stories. DC editorial jumped the shark in my opinion with its attempts to tie Legion into event storylines. Can you say “Manhunters”? Maybe I’m obsessing and letting my curiousity about every Legionnaire oddly express itself? I just really want this team to shine on its own.

Then there’s Rose. What is Rose’s role with the Legion now? Bendis used her as an omnipresent device in both issues of Millennium and here she appears in a small handful of panels and may be a liason of sorts between the Legion and the United Planets administration. The Rose and Thorn strip that ran as a backup in Lois Lane comics in the 1970s really excited me at the time and I was happy to learn Bendis revived the character(s) in his Superman stories even if I’ve not read the bulk of them. But — and here’s where you can say “OK, boomer” — I’m ambivalent about Rose being more than 1,000 years old. Though with one of the revelations in Millennium #2 we have a really good idea why Rose was off planet for some years. Speaking of the 70s Rose feature, have those strips and her other Bronze Age appearances been collected? If you’re reading, DC, can we please have a new Rose and Thorn collection?

A thought or two on the dialog. Aside from a handful of comics (Event Leviathan, an Action collection and a couple X-Men trades borrowed from the library) my exposure to Bendis’ writing has been limited for quite some time. It isn’t that I don’t appreciate the man’s writing. I enjoyed Alias and was there for every punishing installment of Daredevil. During my first read certain stylistic choices didn’t jump at me but on subsequent readings some patterns became more noticeable. Creating and maintaining distinct voices can be a challenge in itself. As other characters come to the forefront I trust individuals’ dialog and speech patterns will have character specificity.

Ryan Sook, Wade Von Grawbadger, and Jordie Bellaire make an excellent art team. Sook’s clean contour style is given solidity by his and Von Grawbadger’s seamless inking. Bellaire brings it all to life with her masterful skill and talent which have earned her awards and the well deserved reputation as one of the best colorists in the business.

In the past I’ve been disappointed with several writers whom I thought took unfair advantage of multiple splash or double paged spreads in their writing. While this issue includes five double paged spreads I think Sook puts them to good use and I don’t feel cheated from a storytelling aspect. With three of these spreads we’re being shown rather than told the grand scale of the future Earth as it exists and with the remaining two examples Sook conveys the spirit and readiness of a very large team roster. Let’s remember for a moment the celebrated and long tradition of artists portraying the full Legion team and the simple joy of looking at faces on the monitor board in Silver Age stories. Now if the double paged spread practice continues more often than not in subsequent issues (as it did in Geoff Johns’ Aquaman as fun as that run is) then I may have to reassess my thinking.

The contributions of letterers often go unmentioned by reviewers and I’ve been guilty too. Dave Sharpe’s work is clear and concise whether its the main characters’ dialog or the special fonts for Mordru and the Horraz. More kudos to Sharpe if he’s making the Frichtman tags! By the way, Bendis has a fun story about them that he talks about here if you want to know. 

Grife! I’ve not been this excited about a single issue and the prospects future ones hold in quite some time! Here’s hoping the creative team sprocking continues to ignite interest and enthusiasm!

November 9, 2019
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