Sunday, September 25, 2011

Legion Of Superheroes #1 - A Review

As regular readers are well aware, I’m a big fan of Doctor Who. But enthusiastic as I am about sharing my love of the show with others, I realize that the adventures of The Doctor can be difficult for a new viewer to get into. This point was driven home to me recently as I was talking with an actress friend whose exposure to the show was limited to three episodes that she watched while sick. Based on her description, I figured out that she was referring to Utopia, The Sound Of Drums and Last Of The Time Lords - the last three episodes of Series 3. Not that this meant a thing to her, though she said she could tell there was a lot going on and it seemed interesting… but there was so much she didn’t understand that insulated her from fully enjoying it.
Why do I mention this? Because I imagine the feeling she had watching those three episodes of Doctor Who is the exact same feeling that I had reading Legion of Superheroes #1. The problem being, of course, that there should be a world of difference between a three-part season finale and the first issue of a comic book.

Most of this issue focuses on two trainee Legion members – Dragonwing and Chemical Kid. They are sent on a mission with several more experienced Legion members to investigate a military outpost that has stopped reporting on The Dominators – an alien empire that has long been an enemy of The Legion. Scenes of other Legion members are interspersed into the main plot, where we learn that several members of the team resigned and that everyone is mourning the loss of someone named Oaa.
I said last week that reading Legion Lost was like walking into a theater in the middle of a bad play. Legion of Superheroes #1 inspires similar feelings of confusion but at least this time we have the traditional editor boxes giving us the names, codenames and powers of the various characters. Even ignoring those helpful notes, the quality level of Paul Levitz’s script is much higher. The action scenes are very well paced and Levitz does a good job conveying personal character traits in a short amount of time, with factoids like Dream Girl and Star Boy being a couple or Chemical Kid’s homosexuality being conveyed subtly, with very little expository text.
The artwork by Francis Portela matches the script for quality. Portela does a good job separating the various characters and giving them distinctive appearances apart from uniform design and hair-styles. The action is well-conveyed and the storytelling from panel to panel flows well. The only issue I had is that the effects used to convey Chameleon Boy’s shape-shifting are inconsistent. Early on, he changes to another form so smoothly it took me a while to realize that he had changed and that we were not looking at a new character. Yet in a later scene a series of lines around his body were used to convey the change before he morphed into some kind of insect. Even the cover-art depicts his powers functioning in a different way, the end of his arm caught in mid-shift from hand to some kind of gun!
Ultimately, the biggest problem with this book is that it assumes far more familiarity with The Legion of Superheroes franchise than a first issue should – particularly one published as part of a supposed company-wide revamp! Indeed, that point – and the fact that nothing about The Legion seems to have changed - may be the thing about this book that might interest those trying to solve the mystery of Flashpoint. If nothing else, this issue seems to offer some hint as to who the mysterious hooded woman is and what her motivations and powers are.
I imagine that long-time Legion fans will be pleased with this product but the rest of us will be left behind in the dust. I think DC would have been better off trying something similar to what Mark Waid did several years ago when he tried to revamp The Legion if they really wanted to attract new readers. This is a good comic but it’s a terrible first issue.

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