Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest – Legion of Super-Heroes #37

Posted: Sunday, December 30, 2007
By: Keith Dallas

“Evil Adventus: Conflict” (part one)

Writer: Jim Shooter
Artists: Francis Manapul, Livesay (i)

Publisher: DC Comics

Average Rating:

Shawn Hill:
Jon Judy:
Thom Young:
Ray Tate:

Shawn Hill

Plot: Lightning Lad is in over his head as new leader, swamped by bureaucracy while raiders attack isolated Solar System colonies, met only by poorly equipped Legionnaire teams.

Comments: Shooter’s great strength as Legion writer to me was always his compelling mix of arcs for each character. No one showed up in a story who didn’t have a reason to be there, and while it was often more action and plot-oriented than soap-opera and interpersonal in style, his work did influence the master of interwoven serial storytelling of Legion lore, Paul Levitz. Both writers developed strong personalities to match the distinctive appearances of the team of charismatic aliens.

This volume was an attempt to jumpstart new life after a moribund period, but the ideas (anti-authority and adulthood constraints in a conservative age) were too thin to sustain the title for long. Personal inter-dynamics took precedence, and ultimately the guest-starring Supergirl hogged the spotlight, since no one else had.

Shooter puts an end to that era decisively with an action-oriented debut, with Karate Kid protecting an injured Triplicate Girl in a final sanction that shocks, but fits the stakes of this current team. And nicely, the problem isn’t something overwhelmingly apocalyptic and major like the DnA reboot, where a massive alien invasion is destroying everything. It’s more of a Legion-sized threat: alien raiders, violent and unexplained, attacking in stealth, but possible to repel. Maybe. With the right leadership and the right power sets, if they had any of those right now.

New artist Manapul is a real find; he grasps the dynamics of each character immediately, and builds on rather than abandons the quite compelling Barry Kitson recent redesigns. All in all, while not galaxy-shaking, this new issue has a fresh energy and goes through all the expected motions with style and confidence. It’s a great base from which to build as solid and legendary a new era for the book as Shooter is capable of (though it is interesting to compare this titular appearance to the currently much more nostalgic take going on in Action Comics). I’d say both iterations prove how much life is left in this old concept still. Welcome back!

Jon Judy:

Now we’re going back two weeks here, so my details might be a little off, but this is how I remember it: The last time I was asked to join in on a Slugfest, we were reviewing Ultimates 3 #1, and I expressed the unpopular opinion of not only liking it, but liking it a lot. Although this put me solidly in the minority among online fanboys, and was contrary to the opinions expressed by my fellow sluggers, my argument was so powerful, so concise, so undeniably logical, that the entirety of internet fandom rose up as one and declared me the second coming of Harry Knowles.

Or something like that.

Ah, those heady days of yore. Now you’ve no doubt forgotten the foundation I laid for explaining why I enjoyed that book, and the only thing you can recall about that review is a general feeling of greatness. True ‘dat. It’s like staring into the face of Yahweh, kids. You won’t remember the details, just the awesomeosity. Well, allow me to refresh your memories, as many of my comments from that review could be applied to Legion of Super-Heroes #37.

Hey, isn’t it time to drop the hyphen from this title? Even my spellcheck recognizes “superheroes” as a word. Surely, they accept the word sans hyphen in the 31st century! [Ironic note: my spellcheck does not recognize “spellcheck” as a word. Ironic note: I’m a former English major who often teaches literature classes, and yet I just used “ironic” incorrectly in that last sentence. And in that last sentence.]

Where was I? Oh, yeah.

There is a rule I apply to judge any new creative team that has to follow a long running, highly successful team: In order for such a new team to be successful, they have to work within the sandbox their predecessors built, but they must also mine territory that was more or less ignored by the older team. Simultaneously, they have to expand the sandbox, adding their own playpen.

Well, applying these criteria sort of applies here. Although this is the first issue of LSH in over three years not to be by some combination of Mark Waid, Tony Bedard and Barry Kitson, I don’t know if you could call their run highly successful. Good? Sure. Great? Nah.

Still, there are shoes to be filled here, and no one is going to be looking at new artist Francis Manapul—who does a perfectly fine job, by the way—to see how those shoes get filled. No, all eyes will be on Jim Shooter.

For those of you who don’t know… ah, to hell with it. We don’t need one of my longwinded asides here. Just look the guy up on Wikipedia, and trust me for now when I say he has a past with the Legion. So how does his present with the team look? Let’s apply my above set of standards.

First, let’s see how Shooter works within the established terrain of the sandbox, while simultaneously taking it in new directions:
  • Uhh… well… Princess Projectra is still really snooty.

  • Oh, this issue follows seamlessly from the ones before it; Shooter is not just wiping the slate clean and starting over with his Legion, but is clearly building on established continuity, or at least current established continuity.

  • Lightning Lad is in over his head as the new team leader, which takes an element from the last team’s run—in which he became the leader—and gives it a logical new direction.

  • Oh! The Invisible Kid gets the hots for some alien chick who dies – apparently – right away. That’s new. He didn’t have the hots for any alien chicks before.

  • Hey, I almost forgot. Not only is Projectra still snooty, but she is no longer royalty, either, which is again something that follows from the previous team’s run.

And… that’s about it. This is pretty much Legion business as usual, which is great if you’re a fan and a bit of a letdown if you’re not. One of the ongoing problems with the Legion has always been that with so many characters, it is hard to give everyone their own plot points and to develop all the characters fully. So far, Shooter takes the time to give three of the Legionnaires personal conflicts, which may be the smart route to go: Focus on part of the team at a time.

On the other hand, if he could have given everyone their own individual story, like Loeb did in Ultimates 3 #1, or have completely deviated from the formula, like Giffen did in the “Five Years Later” Legion, this might have been special.

Instead, the art is fine, the story is fine, the dialogue is fine—in fact, some of Shooter’s inventive future-swearing and slang is sprokking fun—everything is fine. The kids are alright. I was just hoping for more than business as usual.

This is just an average comic book. Nothing really great to say about it, nothing really bad. If you’re a hardcore fan of the recent LSH, you’ll love this. Shooter doesn’t mix it up and doesn’t attempt to turn the clock back forty years. If you like the recent LSH well enough, like me, give this a try. I thought this was good enough to merit picking up the next issue. There was some foreshadowing in this issue that some new team members were on the way, which may be the new twist I was hoping for, and besides that I’m predisposed to liking the Legion. If you don’t have that affection for the team, save your $2.99. Or buy another copy of Ultimates 3 #1. You can never have too many.

Thom Young:

I was first introduced to comic books when I was six years old.

My next-door neighbor, Richard Link, was a voracious reader of comics and pulp novels. He was also six years older than me, and I looked up to him—so I emulated him as best I could. He would watch old science fiction movies on TV every Saturday and Sunday afternoon, and his siblings and I would watch them with him.

He would also buy, for pennies, old paperback books and comics at white elephant and garage sales. Through him, and his siblings, I was introduced to Star Trek, the movies of Johnny Weissmuller, the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the Silver Age of DC Comics. His favorite DC series was Adventure Comics, starring the Legion of Super-Heroes.

That summer when I was six, the temperature in August must have been approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and all of the neighborhood kids congregated at the Links’ house where we would escape the sun by sitting on their covered, backyard patio and pull out dozens of old and new DC comic books from their toy boxes.

Why am I telling you all this? Because that was the August when I first read four impressive issues of Adventure Comics. Actually, it’s the only time I ever read those issues—but the memory of them has stayed with me all these years.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the first two issues, #444 and #445, were written by noted science fiction writer Edmond Hamilton—“The Super-Stalag of Space!” and “The Execution of Matter-Eater Lad.” It was an entertaining two-issue story, and I recall being thrilled with dread at the image of Superboy and the Legionnaires imprisoned in a space stalag.

However, the latter two issues, #446 and #447, were the real treasure. They were the first published stories by a fourteen-year-old kid named Jim Shooter. (Ironically, at the age of fourteen, Shooter’s predecessor on the series, Edmond Hamilton, had graduated from high school and entered college—albeit several decades earlier in 1918.)

In that two-issue story, the Legion accepted four new members into their ranks—Karate Kid, Princess Projectra, Ferro Lad, and Nemesis Kid. They then prepared to fend off an invasion of a previously unknown extraterrestrial race—the Khunds.

Now, 41 years later, Shooter returns to the Legion in a story that is half sequel and half revision of his very first published story. The issue opens with our focus on Karate Kid—one of the characters Shooter created and introduced in his first story. The Legion’s martial arts expert is using his “super karate” (which is what the 14-year-old Shooter named the super power) to fend off an extraterrestrial monstrosity from killing the unconscious Triplicate Girl(s).

The instant I saw those extraterrestrial monstrosities, I thought of the Khunds even though there is little resemblance beyond both species being large, extraterrestrial, and monstrous. This nameless, somewhat Khund-like species is making its way through the solar system—presumably towards Earth—and the Legion must try to prevent the attack.

However, rather than being hindered in their defense of Earth by a traitor in their midst (as they were in Shooter’s first story), the Legion is now hindered by something far more sinister—bureaucracy and budgetary problems. The newly elected leader of the Legion, Lightning Lad, is so distracted by low-level bureaucrats and bill collectors that he isn’t focusing on who he’s assigning to the invasion mission.

Thus, Triplicate Girl was sent out by herself to deal with the Khund-like species as they attacked a mining colony in the distant part of the solar system beyond the Kuiper Belt known as “the scattered disk region.” Fortunately, Karate Kid realized the error of the assignment and arrived just in time (the issue’s first page) to save all three lives of the unconscious Triplicate Girl.

Phantom Girl, who accused Karate Kid of being the traitor in Shooter’s first story four decades ago, arrives in time to help Karate Kid and the Triplicates return to Earth. Unfortunately, all of the “unapproved and unbudgeted” transmatter use draws the attention of a low-level bureaucrat who shuts down the Legion’s use of the transmatter—which means the inappropriate team assigned to protect Triton won’t be able to get the back-up help they need once the Khund-like species attacks that moon of Neptune.

To try to get their transmatter use reinstated, Lightning Lad turns to another of Shooter’s initial character creations, Princess Projectra, to see if she can pull a few diplomatic strings through her government connections as a head of state. Unfortunately, due to the destruction of Orando during Mark Waid’s run on this series, the United Planets no longer recognizes Projectra’s stature since she is now a monarch without a planet.

For those who realize the similarities between Shooter’s first Legion story and his return, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had in making the connections and contemplating the changes in storytelling. Forty-one years ago, the Legion was a club of teens who could have easily dispatched the Khunds if not for the traitor among them. Now, the Legion could easily dispatch the new, Khund-like species if not for their leader’s lack of focus and the pettiness of bureaucracies.

I welcome the verisimilitude of the contemporary story, and I highly recommend this well-written issue. However, the six-year-old kid in me didn’t experience the nostalgia I had hoped for when I first heard that Shooter was returning to the superhero team that gave him his start in the industry—but that’s the fault of my own unrealistic expectations rather than the fault of Shooter’s ability as a writer.

One last parallel between this current story and Shooter’s initial story is the apparent inclusion of new members. Rather than four, it looks like there are seven “pre-approved candidates” that the President of the United Planets has sent to join (it appears) the Legion’s ranks. At the end of this issue, they’re knocking at the door just as Lightning Lad is out of options on how to help the inadequate team he sent to Triton.

The seven new members will probably provide the solution to Lightning Lad’s dilemma. Perhaps one of them will even turn out to be a traitor. In any event, I am happily anticipating the release of the next issue—if my own budgetary problems and bureaucratic quandaries don’t hinder my purchase of it.

One final aspect of the issue that I should comment on is the work of Francis Manapul. His illustrations are adequate in the same way that Curt Swan’s were adequate 41 years ago. At the time, Swan’s style was not all that distinguishable from the work of his predecessors on the Legion—John Forte and Jim Mooney. Similarly, Manapul’s style is not that different from numerous other young illustrators working in comics.

There is a generic quality that has always been present in comic books ever since the Golden Age—a sameness of a particular era’s prevalent style. For every highly distinguishable illustrator in comics—such as Will Eisner, Lou Fine, Neal Adams, Bernie Wrightson, Marshall Rogers, or Justiniano—there are scores of illustrators whose linework and layouts seem to be a homogenous blend of the “flavor of the day.”

Of course, Curt Swan was eventually able to make a name for himself as “the Superman artist of the 1970s” even though he never deviated too far from the generic style of his time. Perhaps Manapul will be able to distinguish himself at some point in the future, but for now he seems to be one of many adequate illustrators who are flooding the field.

In other words, I’m recommending this series for its writing. The illustrations neither detract nor bolster the quality of the book.

Ray Tate:

I have to say that I was pretty surprised by this issue of Legion of Super-Heroes. I doubted even Jim Shooter would be able to fix what was so wrong with the latest reboot of the group, but for the most part he addresses my concerns about the team and crafts an enjoyable read.

The story all feeds back to Lightning Lad winning the election and being appointed leader of the Legion. Being stretched in all directions makes Garth prone to mistake after mistake. The little technical nigglings are what slowly devour his ability to be decisive, and these duck-bites cause him to send ill-equipped Legionnaires to various trouble spots.

While the book is divided by the actions of these away teams, the sections never seem abandoned. Rather they fit together to forge a satisfying adventure that's more typical of the Legion. Shooter doesn't start off with a bang. He doesn't throw Mordru or the Fatal Five at them to kick off what I hope is a long stay. Instead, he concentrates on the characterization. He drops the team's snarky attitudes and finds their individual personalities. He has them interacting amid the problems, and though his emphasis isn't on the plot, he still takes some surprising diversions.

The story starts with Karate Kid on a desolate asteroid facing down a monstrous looking creature. I liked Manapul's artwork in Witchblade, and I like it here. The monster he creates looks far more ominous than any of the Four Horsemen. The design incorporates the alien and the savage. I'm also pleased to see it die.

Monsters don't have rights. A hero should be able to kill a monster. The Kid finishes his foe quickly and efficiently. His sense of responsibility throughout the book makes him extremely amiable, and I can't say that I saw any of these attributes in any of the other incarnations puttering around in the rest of DC's books. The Karate Kid under Shooter's persuasion is more than a one-note character. This is exemplified in a moment where the normally calm and collected Karate Kid expresses his outrage over Garth's poor leadership in a very classy, characteristic, violent way.

Timber Wolf, Saturn Girl, Starboy and Invisible Kid materialize on Triton. Shooter positions Triton as a vacation planet, and this gives him the opportunity to introduce numerous innocent alien life forms under threat. The situation allows him to evolve a moment between the Invisible Kid and a new intriguing love interest. The setting creates natural conflict between she and another group, and the external threat ties into Karate Kid's rescue of Triplicate Girl.

I cannot commend Shooter enough for expunging the sour, cynical attitudes of the Legion. Instead, we get a nice Saturn Girl, whose telepathic communication is out of habit. Invisible Kid acts smart but not overbearing as well as sweet. Shooter remembers that Brin Londo was Wolverine before there was Wolverine. As a result, he gets to be feral for all the right reasons when the invaders show up to piss in the snow. The usually token Starboy also gets a good moment in a show of force.

While this is going on, Princess Projectra is getting taken down a peg by the United Federation of Planets, and because Shooter is at the helm, you cannot help feeling sorry for her. The affront is committed against her, unfairly I may add, and she reacts within the characterization Shooter is setting up for her. At the same time, she apologizes to Lightning Lad for not answering his page immediately. So again, Shooter is writing the Legion as people and not just as roles. This is a vast improvement.

Manapul's redesigns of the team evident on the cover do not appear within the book. However, the artist adds little touches to their old costumes that enhance the aesthetic. I complained previously about the symbol on Phantom Girl's outfit looking like a blimp. Manapul makes it a definite oval, and wrinkles the uniform. When she's out of uniform, and thank you for that, she looks like a beautiful teenaged girl.

Manapul respects the proportion of the human form. He gives the ladies straighter backs, smaller cup sizes and makes them attractive without denigrating their power or strength of character. For the men, he varies the musculature and their faces. The cast's body language differs. Emotion is subtly produced and explodes only when the plot requires it.

I've taken issue with Livesay before. For Legion of Super-Heroes, it appears that he can ink, and he doesn't overwhelm Manapul's pencils. He gives the pencils more weight and depth when needed. This effect is doubled by Nathan Eyring who creates levels of roundness with various flesh tones. There is an overall attentiveness to every niche in the art.

The first issue of the new Legion of Super-Heroes is a winner. Shooter has immediately brought the team back on track, and Manapul expertly distinguishes a massive cast while detailing the future universe.

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