Posted by: Graeme McMillan on November 5, 2010
I’ll say this for Paul Levitz: He’s got an amazing fast learning curve for making comics work. Or, at least, half of one. When LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES #1 debuted six months ago, I admit to being disappointed by a script that seemed more expositional than enjoyable, and more predictable and awkwardly-paced than my (admittedly rose-tinted) memories of his 1980s run on the title would’ve led me to believe. But now that #6 is out, it feels as if the old magic is back.
Oh, there’ve been some teething troubles, and a lot of the first six issues feel like the work of someone stretching muscles for the first time in awhile, and seeing how old clothes fit, to mix metaphors – There are plots that seem to flip between issues (That Earth Man as Green Lantern thing didn’t really seem to go anywhere, and Saturn Girl stealing a Time Bubble to… not travel through time with… was also an odd moment – Not to mention the fact that Titan’s destruction in the first issue seems to still feel like a dangling plot at best, or gratuitous at worst), and familiar threats that were introduced and dispatched so quickly as to feel weightless retreads (Darkseid’s followers were surprisingly weak, and presumably laying groundwork for something down the road), but each issue has been a significant improvement on the one before. #6 in particular – A split issue, with two main stories and a one-page introduction to the Legion Leadership Election that reminded me more than anything of Mark Waid’s letters page from his last relaunch of the book – offered up the best balance yet of characterization, plot and just plain cohesion that the series has seen yet, and something on par with Levitz’ last run on the book.
(It helps that this issue is illustrated by guest artists Francis Portela and Phil Jiminez; for some reason, Yildiray Cinar’s work is much more hit-and-miss on the series than I’d expected, based on other work I’ve seen of his. Perhaps it’s the inking? But Portela and Jiminez both offer up solid work with personality in #6, and it really helps the story, I think.)
Weirdly, though, while Legion has been improving each issue, the same sadly can’t be said for the companion run in ADVENTURE COMICS. It’s not that the Superboy and The Legion: The Early Years sequence Levitz and various artists are offering up are bad, per se, more that they seem scattered and not necessarily fulfilling either their potential or purpose. Levitz has talked in interviews about these initial issues of Adventure as being created in response to a conversation with Geoff Johns about the lack of an entry-level book for the Legion, and in one sense, it works on that level – You get to see Superboy in the 30th Century for the first time, you get to see the origin of the Legion – but on another, it really doesn’t. For one thing, the stories happen out of order: You get the early Legion in the first issue, then the current Legion remembering the origin of the Legion in the second, then the third issue presents an even earlier Legion than the first, before things settle into some kind of order for the next three. The worst part is, each of these time jumps happens without any kind of signifier for anyone who doesn’t already know their Legion, just as stories that are shout-outs to existing Legion continuity happen without full context, so that they only really make sense to existing fans (Like this week’s #520, which is about the “death” of Lightning Lad, and ends with him still in stasis, without any explanation about how he got out – Something that won’t be followed up on anytime soon, considering the book jumps to “contemporary” Legion continuity with #521); some issues read as if they should be accompanied by a reprint to help you understand what’s going on in the larger scheme of things. Even if each issue had a satisfying story in-and-of itself, it’d still fail as an introduction for newcomers, and will undoubtedly make for a very disjointed, disorientating read in collected format.
Again, it’s something that seems to be addressed; starting with the next issue, the series is dropping the flashback format and starting to act as companion to the regular Legion book, with the Green Lantern subplot taking over for a couple of issues before Phil Jiminez jumps on and the series becomes, essentially, Legion Academy: The Series. There’s something unusual about seeing problems in both books being dealt with so quickly, I have to admit, and something weirdly old-fashioned about the notion. Have I just gotten used to creators sticking to their guns even as readers jump off books in droves? Possibly, and that’s both a depressing and telling thought. But, for now, consider the first six months of Levitz’ third reign over the Legion to be a slow ramp from Okay to Very Good on Legion of Super-Heroes, and a slightly-less impressive uneven swing between Eh to Okay on Adventure. But what, as the man says, do you think?