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Sunday Slugfest: Adventure Comics #521

Posted: Sunday, December 5, 2010
By: Thom Young

Paul Levitz
Geraldo Borges (p) & Marlo Alquiza (i)
DC Comics
Following an artificial earthquake in Africa, the Legion of Super Heroes takes action to deal with the situation and track down the cause of the catastrophe. Meanwhile, the mysterious entity known as Dyogene selects the 31st century’s newest Green Lantern.

Ross Haralson:
Kyle Garret:
Shawn Hill:
Thom Young:

Ross Haralson:

This issue represents a fairly significant shift in format for Adventure Comics, as the timeline of this title is now concurrent with that of the flagship Legion of Super-Heroes book (also penned by Paul Levitz).

The narrative picks up immediately where the lead feature of last month’s Legion left off, which immediately affords the reader an opportunity to appreciate how well Geraldo Borges’s pencils complement those of Legion artist Yildiray Cinar. In fact, I am already willing to say that Borges is the single best thing to happen to Adventure interior art following the unfortunate departure of Francis Manapul one year ago (which was expected once the focus shifted away from Superboy, and given the artist’s previous stint illustrating the Legion).

Borges supplies an appreciable amount of detail to the clothing, hair styles, and facial features of the various Legion members--which provides a great deal of personality for each member of this admittedly large cast, and it goes a long way towards visually affirming the cultural diversity that has always been a hallmark of the Legion team.

I would like to point out, however, that Borges (though no more than anyone else illustrating the Legion this decade post-Barry Kitson) manages to call attention to one major concern: Shadow Lass’s costume. Here, as in Legion, the character appears to be little more than a blue-toned Cave Woman “plus cape.” Regarding this detail, if this title was from a small-press publisher that thrived on such presentation I would say little if anything (given I wouldn’t be reading); however, as this is one of the longest-running and highest-profile properties from DC Comics, this particular character design absolutely lacks class and should be an embarrassment for the publisher.

As for the story, Levitz’s script for this issue’s lead feature is extremely solid, and those concerned by DC’s impending shift to 20-page comics should find comfort here in this particular writer’s ability to flourish amidst an already-reduced page count (which affords “The Atom” backup feature 10 pages rather than the standard eight).

Levitz’s story actually combines two separate plotlines: Dyogene’s search for a new Green Lantern Corps member, and a prologue to Levitz’s new storyline for Legion kicking off later this month.

The first subplot results in a new Green Lantern by issue’s end. While the new GL costume design seems a bit uninspired, the particular character is a reasonably good fit for the role. The commonality of traits shared by this newest inductee and the Corps’ only current member, Sodam Yat, also provides a strong justification for the writer’s decision.

However, Earth Man may have proven a more compelling choice, given the character’s strong convictions and roguish nature (not altogether dissimilar to that of Hal Jordan); it seems to me that Dyogene’s choice possesses neither Jordan’s fierceness nor the creative spirit that made Kyle Rayner a distinct and fitting replacement for Hal. That being said, the reformation of Earth Man has been one of the most compelling subplots borne out of this newest Legion reboot--which means his absence would have been negatively affective in the long run.

The second subplot, involving a mysterious villain’s attack on the African continent, is far less interesting at this moment, but it does provide enough standard superhero fare to warrant an unobtrusive means of introducing the various Legion members’ power sets and personalities to new readers. Additionally, this particular thread not only provides the issue a welcome measure of action (which is missing from the Green Lantern story), but it is also a strong argument for having two intertwined Legion titles each month.

It would definitely be a failing for me to conclude this review without mentioning the outstanding value that “The Atom” backup represents for this book. While I look forward to a lighter comics bill come January, it truly is a shame that the financial relief comes at the cost of exemplary co-features like “The Atom.” From the moment I first opened Brightest Day: The Atom Special, I knew that writer Jeff Lemire and artist Mahmud Asrar held excellent potential as a creative team--and, I’m both surprised (as a devoted Levitz fan) and pleased to confirm, there have been several issues over the last six months where I enjoyed The Atom feature more than I did the Legion story!

Asrar’s art is as unique as it is dynamic; I’ve not read Dynamo 5, but I will make it a point to investigate the series based solely upon the strength of Asrar’s work here.

Lemire’s story, meanwhile, has been very engaging. I’ve particularly appreciated the energy that he has injected into a character who is often left devoid of personality amidst his more iconic colleagues--particularly in the post-Identity Crisis landscape (or perhaps now due to that story).

The out-of-this-world concepts that Lemire introduces--such as that of the “Ant Farm,” an artificial world built by Ray Palmer’s uncle and stored inside a softball-sized container--only further illustrate the creativity that I will be sad to see go. I praise this team’s efforts, and I offer a plea to DC for another platform through which this story (as well as Spencer/Silva’s “Jimmy Olsen” or the brand-new Niceieza/Kudranski “Ragman”) might continue.

All in all, this is essentially a transitional issue of Adventure Comics, rather than one that will be remembered years from now on its merit as a single-issue story, but the issue certainly offers everything that comic books should have: a likeable cast, strong characterization and larger-than-life heroics. Not to mention fantastic artwork.

Kyle Garret:

Adventure Comics is actually beginning to feel like a Legion book again.

Until now, the newly re-launched Legion of Super-Heroes and this sister title featuring the original team and written by long time Legion favorite Paul Levitz, have left me pretty cold. The characters have come across as distant, the relationships flat, and the plotlines pedestrian and predictable. Thankfully, with this issue of Adventure, that seems to be changing.

While Levitz is still saddled with plotlines stemming from the Legion of 3 Worlds series, he seems to be finally moving past those elements. At the very least, the resolution to the Green Lantern story served to smooth over the rather questionable Earth Man/Shadow Lass pairing, or at least the most problematic part of it.

Otherwise, though, we get Levitz at his best--and the Legion at theirs. The natural disaster angle is a long-standing tradition in Legion stories, and it was a welcome addition to this issue. Finally, we see the scope of the team, as multiple groups are out on multiple missions--and while the missions themselves may seem simple, there’s depth there, whether in adding texture to the Legion’s world or leading to a cliffhanger.

A major problem with the Legion books since the team’s return has been the art. Borges and Alquiza are a slight improvement over what we’ve seen so far, but not by much. I can’t wait for Phil Jimenez to come on board, even if does mean we’ll see less of the main Legion team and more of the academy.

In fact, my interest in the Atom back up story was minimal as I picked up the title specifically for the Legion, but Asrar and Dell’s art has me hoping they move to the main Legion title when DC drops the back up stories in their books. Asrar’s work reminds me a bit of Lee Moder’s, but the characters aren’t as emaciated.

Hopefully, this issue is the beginning of Levitz finding his footing with the Legion again. With the academy taking center stage soon and Jimenez coming on board for art, we could be seeing the start of something great for the newly revived Legion.

Shawn Hill

I admit to having lost interest in this title; something about period pieces of the Legion didn't appeal to me as much as what Levitz was doing with the current team in their own book (“period stories” sounds funny when you're dealing with tales set in the future, but that's what they were).

However, we're now back to both books being “current,” and that can be a great way to go. Levitz has hit the ground running with the Geoff Johns sub-plots left over from the Legion’s various appearances during the last few years--and it's a darker, more mature and more conflicted Legion than the one Levitz last wrote so many years ago.

Nevertheless, it's also recognizably connected to a group composed of the team's greatest era, and it's so nice to have them back again--even with a murderous racist like Kirt Niedrigh on the team. In fact, racism and its cyclical revival have been at the basis of many Legion stories over the years--though usually as a subtext of tolerance and diversity.

Johns, of course, never met a subtext he didn't want to shine a spotlight on, but in exploring this team of somewhat brittle and battle-scarred adults Levitz has found a way to make Kirt's conversion to Legion values somewhat believable. In a way, with his power-borrowing abilities, he's sort of like an updated, rehabilitated Nemesis Kid. Having Shadow Lass see the worth in him was a very interesting twist. Their chemistry is blatant.

Shadow Lass also plays a role of importance to another member, Mon-El, as Levitz explains as best he can the demise of their once rock-solid romance. Relationships are at the core of this issue (and promise much soapy goodness to come, if Levitz can get past all the political maneuvering), as we also see that ill-starred duo of Wildfire and Dawnstar have yet another near-fatal misadventure. Talk about playing with fire!

In a well-illustrated scene, Dyogene judges each of the assembled Legionnaires, and chooses . . . Mon-El! Who accepts! The Legion has always been about the fantastic recombinations of legacy DC-icons (experienced by idealized young xenophilic aliens in the future), so Green-El is an intriguing development.

And Mon-El certainly has a varied history where he's represented so much to so many--including occasionally subbing for Supes in everyone's memory and faith. That plus his harrowing 1000 years in the Phantom Zone have given him a perspective that should make him a very formidable Green Lantern in this era where the Corps has become so moribund.

I'm overjoyed to see so many teammates in action at once, including Tellus, Quislet, Invisible Kid (looking strangely like Tyroc, whom we've also seen looking somewhat like Gear in the sister title), and Element Lad--who uses his powers very effectively (if not, perhaps, very sensitively) to save an African town facing an unnatural disaster.

There are definitely enough Legionnaires to fill two books, and they will hopefully do so in a flexible but interrelated fashion.

Thom Young:

I agree with my colleagues that Adventure Comics#521 rates three and a half bullets--but I flirted with the notion of giving it only three bullets. It’s just slightly above average, though.

The story in this issue is more of an interlude that sets up future stories involving Mon-El as a Green Lantern and a mysterious attack from space that causes an earthquake in Africa. Paul Levitz wrote these segments adequately without any cringe-inducing dialog or bad science, but there’s nothing about the story in this issue that makes it memorable. It’s just an average Legion of Super-Heroes issue that sets up what will hopefully be memorable stories.

The reason I almost dropped my bullet score to three is because of the illustrations accompanying Levitz’s story. There isn’t anything wrong with Geraldo Borges’s work as the penciler for this issue. However, with Levitz delivering a low-key story in this issue, the illustrations needed to be more dynamic than what Borges provided. In a franchise that has included such heavyweight illustrators as Neal Adams, Dave Cockrum, Mike Grell, Keith Giffen, and others, Borges’s uninspired layouts and occasionally awkward anatomies don’t measure up.

I’d prefer to see cover artist Scott Clark become the regular Legion penciler, though there are several new illustrators I’ve noticed working for DC lately who would be good choices here as well. Still, Borges might grow into his role as the illustrator of the Legion in the same way that other former Legion artists grew into their roles before becoming legends.

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