"Superboy and the LEGION, Part Two"
Writers: Mark Waid and Geoff Johns
Artists: Ivan Reis and Joe Prado (p), Marc Campos (i)
Writer: Mark Waid
Artist: Barry Kitson
As the Teen Titans and the Legion do battle with the ever expanding army of villains, we see the team manages to gain a momentary escape to the Legion's old headquarters, where the two teams work together to come up with a means of bringing the villains under control. As the two group manage to cobble together a solution we see that while their efforts are a success, both teams are pulled into the time-stream, and neither ends up in the era in where they belong.
A big sweeping adventure in which two teams join forces to do battle with a seemingly overwhelming threat. The problem with this promising sounding premise is that it's been used so often that the writers need to bring something new to the table, or it feels like they are simply following in the footsteps of the hundreds of previous writers who have latched on to the idea that a crossover between two groups of heroes is sure to be a fan pleaser. However, the only real noticeable difference with this story is that they left out the opening step where the two teams battle each other before coming to the realization that they should be working together. Instead of a battle the book spends more time on the interaction between the two casts, and the main problem with this is that if one is unfamiliar with either group, than you're left feeling like you're only getting half the story. However, I will concede that this book does manage to offer up some moments of genuine excitement, as the concept of an ever growing army of super-villains is used to good effect, and given the sheer number of characters that make up the Legion it certainly was a wise move on the writers part to come up with a threat that managed to clearly sell the idea that even the Legion were vastly outnumbered in this fight. There's also a handful of character moments that I found quite amusing, from the scene where Gar complains about the Legion's secret headquarters, to Raven's thoughts on Brainiac 5's less than endearing personality. The one-shot also does a nice job of placing both teams in interesting looking scenarios, and I'm rather looking forward to the Teen Titans’ next arc.
A very impressive effort as the book's two pencilers do a near seamless job of matching their styles so that if it wasn't for the credit box I could've sworn that this was the work of a single artist. The art does a great job of capturing the overwhelming nature of the threat that the teams are up against, as there's a number of big impact moments, where the idea that the villains vastly outnumber our heroes make for a powerful bit of imagery, with the issue's double page spread of the villain's arrival being the visual highlight of the issue. There's also a number of smaller visuals that are worth a mention, such as Superboy's arrival in the issue wearing his Teen Titans uniform, and while there's a slightly cheesy quality to it, I can't deny that the image of the Legion being pulled through the time-stream shaped like an L made for a powerful final shot of the team. The final page shot of the new Legion also made for a nice closing image.
This 38 page comic book has several purposes: (1) close the door on The Legion, (2) spark interest in Mark Waid and Barry Kitson’s December re-boot of Legion of Super-heroes, and (3) launch the next story arc in Teen Titans. As I see it, the first purpose is dismally accomplished, the second purpose I’m having no part of, and the third purpose is a success.
At the conclusion of this issue’s conflict, Brainiac 5 and Cosmic Boy spout some really unconvincing techno-babble to explain that the Titans can return to the 21st century. (As the writers of The Legion for the past four years, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning submerged the series in techno-babble…, but at least their techno-babble sounded legitimate and appropriate. The techno-babble presented in this Special, on the other hand, is forced and feeble.) However, interference by the Persuader disrupts the time travel, and the Titans find themselves 10 years beyond the point at which they left the 21st century. This leads into the three issue “Titans Tomorrow!” story arc. Beginning in Teen Titans #17, the teenagers come face-to-face with the adults they’re supposedly destined to become. I wasn’t a regular reader of Teen Titans, but because of Teen Titans #16 and this Special, I now am going to be. I am intrigued by “Titans Tomorrow!” and the subsequent developments of these young characters.
I WAS a regular reader of the Legion of Super-Heroes, but I doubt I’ll be any longer for a couple of reasons. First, The Special fails to end The Legion volume in a satisfying way. The first twenty pages of this comic book displays a completely forgettable battle between the young super-heroes and the “Fatal Five Hundred.” For those unfamiliar with the Legion of Super-Heroes, The Fatal Five (A.K.A. the five deadliest villains in the galaxy) are the Legion’s most formidable opponents (along with Mordru and the Time Trapper). Their homicidal sociopathy, brute strength, experience, cunning and remarkable weaponry are greater than the sum of their parts, and that’s saying something. In Adventure Comics #366 (March 1968), they manhandled a Legion team consisting of Superboy, Cosmic Boy, Karate Kid, Shadow Lass and Brainiac 5 so badly that the youths hid in their own clubhouse rather than oppose them. Once they decided to confront the Fatal Five, they needed the United Planets cavalry to save them from sure defeat. In The Legion #15-16 (February-March 2003), the Fatal Five stomped on Ultra Boy, Wildfire, XS, Shikari, and Timber Wolf. It took some guerilla tactics by Timber Wolf to keep the villains preoccupied before, you guessed it, the cavalry arrived in the form of eleven other Legionnaires. My point is that throughout Legion history, the Fatal Five has been depicted as opponents the Legion could handle only barely or through a lot of luck. Now Tharok has figured out how to “amp up” The Persuader’s atomic axe to “carve into parallel realities” and recruit other Fatal Fives into the fray. Considering how formidable one Fatal Five is, the Fatal “Five Hundred” should be annihilating the combined forces of the Teen Titans and the Legion of Super-Heroes, right? Well, according to the Teen Titans/Legion Special #1, thirty super-heroes can fend off five hundred of the deadliest villains in the galaxy without so much as breaking a nail. Cosmic Boy disassembles a dozen Tharoks at once. ONE Tharok was never handled that easily before. Surrounded by Manos, Robin batters them handily. This entire battle is the equivalent of Deathstroke taking apart seven Justice Leaguers (as he did in Identity Crisis #3), but those same Justice Leaguers being able to handle a hundred Deathstrokes. It’s a ludicrous battle and an unexciting one because the artwork doesn’t pull its weight. I think we’re meant to be awed by the destructive force of a hundred different Fatal Five teams, but their ruthlessness is not on display here, and by the middle of this battle, I’m yawning. A more clean and coherent artist (like Mike McKone or Alan Davis) undoubtedly would have presented a more exhilarating battle.
The demise of this version of the Legion of Super-Heroes (caught in a “space between dimensions” linked hand-to-hand forming an “L” before fading into a white-out) disappoints rather than touches me. On one hand, I’m thankful that the team wasn’t slaughtered (although that would have been appropriate in a battle with the Fatal Five Hundred), but on the other hand, I think the vagueness of their demise is lame in its attempt to mollify devoted Legion readers.
The final seven pages of the Special offers a preview of Waid and Kitson’s Legion of Super-Heroes #1. From what I can tell, the new LSH will be multi-faceted, intelligent and unique…, but make no mistake, this is a radical departure from previous Legion incarnations (yes, more radical than TMK’s 1989 LSH Vol. 4), and ultimately, I don’t think it is the Legion. Rather than super-powered youths volunteering to join the Legion in order to protect the United Planets, this new Legion of Super-Heroes presents teenagers initiating a cultural revolution by rebelling against their parents who refuse to understand them and a society that stifles them. That’s interesting. That’s a fresh approach…, but that’s not the Legion. The Legionnaires are being shoe-horned into a high-minded concept here. It is a fascinating concept, but for this Legion fan, I’d rather not see my favorite super-heroes utilized in this way. Imagine if Alan Moore got his wish back in 1986 and was allowed to use the Charlton heroes (Blue Beetle, The Question, Captain Atom, Peacemaker, Nightshade, et al.) in his Watchmen story. How would fans of those Charlton heroes have felt reading those characters in such a story? Simultaneously awed and dismayed? That’s how I feel after reading the seven page Legion of Super-Heroes preview. The Legion books have sold so poorly for so long that maybe a complete re-imagining is what is needed to keep it alive. Waid and Kitson’s re-boot will receive my blessing but not my involvement. Maybe I’ll feel differently in December.
For now though I’ll keep reading Teen Titans.
From the start, the shit hits the fan. The Teen Titans have joined the Legion of Super-Heroes in the 31st Century to fight the Fatal Five Hundred, an army composed of copies of the Fatal Five from alternate timelines. Fortunately, Brainiac 5.1 figures out a way to send the villains back to their home times. Unfortunately, the method cuts the heroes off from the timestream. Superboy tries to bring both teams back to the present, but the teams are separated and lost. This results in a new future where the Legion isn’t popular with adults. That’s the basis for yet another new ‘Legion’ series, coming in 2005.
This comic is meant to introduce readers to the new ‘Legion’ series. And while I like the new series’ premise, I would not recommend this book to those unfamiliar with recent events in ‘Legion’ and ‘Teen Titans’. The short version: The present-day Superboy is somehow thrown into the 31st Century. He joins the Legion and grows as a hero. While Superboy’s Legion tenure can be seen in the last year or so of ‘Legion’ comics, his time trip only just occurred in ‘Teen Titans’. That’s never explained in this book. Superboy says he’s been fighting the Fatal Five Hundred for months, but it isn’t explained when he traveled through time or how long he’s actually been with the Legion. This lessens the import of Superboy’s conflict regarding which team to join.
If there’s anything else that needs explanation or clarification, I wouldn’t know. I’m not a regular reader of ‘Legion’ or ‘Teen Titans’. What I’ve said comes from occasionally browsing the titles. So maybe this comic isn’t meant for readers coming into Legion comics cold.
Then again, what comic book reader doesn’t take an interest in what’s happening in other titles? I don’t read Batman books, but I’d still like to know how “War Games” ends. Maybe there’s no such thing as a “new” comic book reader; just readers who shift from one title to another. Like a glass box that tilts back and forth, moving blue water from end to end, so too do publishers try to shift the limited number of current readers from one series to another.
But back to this book: Brainiac’s constant insults to Bart’s intelligence are funny. Then he actually does something stupid. In the middle of a fight, Bart runs off to see his mom. Yeah, he hasn’t seen her in ages, but leaving, even for the briefest of seconds, and running at super sped, puts his teammates at risk. I just can’t see the other Flashes doing it. They’d put the lives of their teammates ahead of their personal desires. But how can you really criticize a kid for seeing his mom?
Continuity aside, this is a big-ass fight scene until the end. It’s fun, even though the time-rift threat doesn’t make much sense. It did make me curious to see where the Titans landed in ‘Titans’ #17. Looks like they’re in a future where some of them became the JLA. Entertaining, but not quite worth buying.
The premise for the new ‘Legion’ series seems to be a new twist on the classic “kids vs. adults” conflict. In the “perfect” future, kids are strictly controlled and monitored by the state until they become adults. Presumably, they then become obedient members of society. This Legion is reviving the ideals of the old age of superheroes and creating a counter-culture among teens. Youth rebellion in utopia.
High-minded stuff. I hope it works.
Plot 1: The Persuaders of multiple realities have realized they can slice into each other’s worlds and gather en masse to wipe the Legion out of our world forever.
Right, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The Fatal 500 are all leaving their own realities just to ravage ours, and while the Empress has a variety of sexy costumes (many of them a lot like something Wanda Maximoff has worn), she’s got the same one note personality as always. Tharok, the evil genius on par with Braniac, has been reduced to some sort of Cyborg rights champion. All the Validuses (Validii?) are the same brute, Manos is as vulnerable as ever and the Persuaders get all the good lines. They’re cannon fodder, not characters, and their plan sounds impressive, but is really nonsense. Why should any of the other Fatal Fives care about ours, or what they want? They’re trying to conquer the “cosmos?” Which one?
The story's biggest failing is that it reduces the Legion to generic non-entities as well, just more bodies in the overloaded crowd scenes. They have no hope against these odds, and one doubts the Titans could be much help.
The cover paints Superboy as the nexus of these events, though it’s hard to see how as his sojourn with the Legion left him mostly viewed as a naïve dunce, one who brought more trouble to the Legion than he solved. And while we learn that Legion World wasn’t utterly destroyed (as it seemed in Teen Titans #16), it doesn’t matter because all of this noisy mayhem is leading in one direction, and one direction only: to a new version of the title freed from its continuity, a la Byrne’s latest Doom Patrol.
This really reads more like a Titans book than a Legion one, as the cover logo arrangement underscores. There’s exactly one moment of emotional character exploration, and it’s for Bart as he visits his mom and spends a little time with cousin Jenni.
So Superboy’s Big Choice, when the final moment comes (of course all the atomic axe space-time rips start to collapse in on themselves in some Space: 1999-level sci-fi plot device hooey) is whether to return home with the Titans or stay to help the Legion. Johns does his Johns-y last-minute switch thing to let Conner have both worlds, and then Waid does his monkey wrench in the machinery thing taking the choice out of his hands, and our Legion fades away (again … third time’s the charm?) nobly, while the Titans hurtle home to a possibly interesting future (themselves as the JLA) for their next story arc. At least Johns covers his own bases.
Won’t even mention the art, as it is serviceable, little more, offering up a passable Alan Davis gloss on all the cosmic shenanigans.
Plot 2: The redemption of this “Special.” Here we get a glimpse of the Waid/Kitson vision for the new series. I only hope both of them stick with the book as long as Abnett and Lanning did. While the cliché of the rebellious kids joining a quasi-outlaw group of youthful vigilantes is not one I’m very interested in, there’s a lot of promise in this little glimpse for a variety of tones and adventures. Kitson seems to have reached a new level with a convincing 31st century full of aliens and flight-rings, and I absolutely love the new costume designs, which hark back to several earlier eras of the Legion’s rich history.
Waid and Kitson have opened themselves up here, I think, to tell new stories while picking their favorite versions of old characters, mixing and matching with no need to repeat the past, but it seems clear they haven’t forgotten it either. I don’t know what they have in store, I don’t know if it’s going to be Mordru and the Fatal Five and Tyr and Grimbor and Charma and Mekt and Khunds all over again, but there’s clearly a new vision in place. Their challenge, as always, will be to keep the Legion young and yet super-capable and smart. They’d finally aged to where I wanted them to be under DnA, but I’m more than willing to go through it all over again. As long as the quality doesn’t sink to pre-DnA levels. The passable score given this issue is in large-part due to this second story, which seems like a must-have for a Legion fan. As this is not an over-priced, card-stock style special, it’s worth it.
Continued from Teen Titans #16, this issue sees two teams of young heroes fight an impossible battle against the Fatal Five Hundred! Forced into a retreat, the Titans and Legion pin all their hopes Brainiac 5’s scheme–a plan the genius himself is not too keen on, as it all depends on Kid Flash! Plus, Superboy makes a decision, and will live with the consequences.
While this two-issue crossover wants desperately to be about Superboy and the upcoming Legion relaunch, Kid Flash steals the show here. His long-awaited reunion with cousin XS, a touching moment with his real mother, and priceless interaction with Brainy stemming from Bart’s abortive attempt to join the Legion when that team was stranded in the twentieth century, make up the heart of the book. Superboy, in comparison, is left with a rather forced “who are you with?” episode and an even more rushed and obvious “who will you save?” scenario.
Another unfortunate aspect of this issue was the fight’s resolution. Just once it would be nice to see an alternate reality menace that wasn’t solved with vibrations. Truthfully, this special would have been better without the Fatal Five Hundred showing up at all, leaving the teams more time to chat. This, of course, would remove the reasons for their meeting in the first place, but maybe something else could have been invented–like Kon and Cassie’s second date, with the rest of the Titans along for the ride.
Finally, how does the new Legion look? In short, not promising. In this issue’s brief preview of the Waid/Kitson series starting up in December, parents all over the United Planets are terrified that their children might join the new Legion of Super-Heroes, an upstart group of teenagers inspired by historical heroes and fascinated by the culture of the distant past. In short, all appearances suggest that Mr. Waid has chosen to write to a theme, a practice that has lead to some of his least-inspiring stories. His work on books like Empire, Kingdom Come, and Flash derived strength from characterization, or from a strong plot premise. By contrast, his JLA suffered because, in some way, every story was about teamwork. Here, the theme seems to be teenage rebellion, although nostalgia seems to play a pretty big role, as well. Having an underlying theme to a series does not have to be a detriment, but Waid tends to be pretty heavy-handed when he decides to have one, which more often than not lends to awkward characters and clunky dialogue.
Regular readers of Teen Titans and the recently-defunct Legion would do well to pick this issue up to see how everything shakes out; in the case of the Titans, events in this book lead directly in to upcoming events, while Legion fans may simply be curious. This will, of course, be of extra interest for those who plan to buy the new Legion ongoing, or who may be undecided and would like a taste of what’s to come.
What did you think of this book?
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