Legion of Super-Heroes #1

Legion of Superheroes #1

C+

I’ve been a Legion fan since I started reading comics. I grew up on my mom’s old Adventure Comics and other Legion spotlight titles, and I’ve subscribed to various iterations of the book in the last twenty years or so. The last volume, bringing back the adult Legion and writer Paul Levitz, was the first one I actively dropped, though I really hadn’t been reading it for awhile before. It’s not that it wasn’t good, I just lost interest.

After hearing some positive buzz about Levitz’s new run, I kicked myself for dropping it, and I’ve thought about going back to buy the rest of the volume.This newest relaunch and renumbering for the 31st Century’s premiere super-team has me continuing to consider that, though mostly so I might understand what the heck is going on.

I understand the desire to let Legion of Super-Heroes continue without a reboot, what with it being the most-rebooted team in comics history. Still, continuing on without missing a step, apparently, from the previous issue means that even someone like me, who’s followed the Legion off-and-on-and-mostly-on for decades, has a hard time getting into things.

It’s a little hard to cite that as a failing of the issue; the large cast of colorful characters with soap opera relationships has long been one of the draws of the Legion comics, and when I was a young reader with only a handful of Legion stories from throughout their existence, I lived for figuring out their connections and reading the Who’s Who-style character descriptions and memorizing their names and powers. On the other hand, one of the other draws of the Legion is that it’s a team of teenage super-heroes from the future, and making them largely into married adults removes some of that allure.

To be entirely fair, Legion of Super-Heroes does a much better job of introducing the Legion concept and cast than last week’s Legion Lost. The character-description editorial captions may clutter up the art a bit, but in a Legion book, they’re indispensable, and it’s a travesty that Legion Lost — the New 52’s de facto introduction to the Legion — lacked them entirely.

There’s a lot going on in this issue; one team of Legionnaires is investigating a planet on the edge of Dominator space; Colossal Boy is struggling with the loss of his wife (if my spouse were in Legion Lost, I might feel the same — zing!) and his decision to leave the team; Mon-El is trying to deal with his new leadership role; and some other Legionnaires appear to be trying to figure out time travel again. The main plot is straightforward enough, though I can’t imagine how anticlimactic the end would be to someone who didn’t know what a Daxamite was, but the amount of references to other characters and plot threads is almost overwhelming. There’s no hand-holding for new readers here, and I almost resent it.

Francis Portela’s art is good, with a positively enormous amount of detail in various scenes, even if the characters are sometimes a little stiff, like action figures who only have so many expressions or points of articulation. The biggest problem is just how cramped things often feel; so many characters have to fit on-panel, along with all the high-tech gizmos and scenery of the 31st century setting, that the panels often feel crowded. The action is generally well-done, and the costumes look great, which is a nice change of pace from so many of the other New 52 books.

And yet, after all that, I feel like I’m at a loss to sum up this issue. It’s not a bad story, and I’m interested enough to find out what’s going on in the next issue. As I said above, I’m even interested in picking up the other thirteen issues I missed of the previous volume (and the nine or so issues of Adventure Comics I skipped) so I can catch up on what happened in the interim. As a long-time Legion fan, I was sometimes lost in this issue, but lost in that way that makes you want to learn where you are. To a new reader, I can imagine this being completely impenetrable, and yet I suspect that I would have loved this issue as a kid, just as I loved the equally-impenetrable comics of earlier Legion eras, or the overly-complex soap operas of Chris Claremont’s X-Men.

I’ve been a Legion fan for a long time, and the Legion fanbase is legendary for its fervor. For existing fans, this issue gives what you’d expect, and in all likelihood, what you’d want. But the way this issue is written suggests to me that DC isn’t concerned with expanding that fanbase very much, and that seems like a wasted opportunity.

Pull list verdict: ON PROBATION

tags: francis portela, legion of super heroes, paul levitz, the new 52

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