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Sunday Slugfest: Legion of Three Worlds #4

A comic review article by: Thom Young, Paul Brian McCoy, Charles Webb, Jason Sacks, Kyle Garret
The fourth issue of Legion of 3 Worlds is action packed with more punching, flying, and trash talking as a newly resurrected Bart “Kid Flash” Allen (or “part” of him, anyway) joins the rumble while the three Brainiac 5s resurrect another dead hero.

What’s most significant, though, is that the identity of the Time Trapper is finally revealed after 50 years & eight and a half months (or revealed again for the nth time as yet another person under the robe)!

Thom Young:
Paul Brian McCoy:
Charles Webb:
Jason Sacks:
Kyle Garret:




Thom Young:

After reading Legion of 3 Worlds #4, I realized I had just read a typical Geoff Johns comic--i.e., mindless violence, inane dialog, and errors in logic throughout the plot. I then realized that the review I had started to compose in my head was nearly identical to the review of the third issue that was posted as part of a Sunday Slugfest on February 8, 2009.

I guess that in the nearly three months between issues I had forgotten what I had written about the third issue until I actually went into the archives to see what I had written. Upon discovering that I was essentially writing the same review for the fourth issue (with some of the details swapped out, of course), I considered not even bothering to write a review of this issue. I’d just let my colleague Paul Brian McCoy have at it.

After all, I had already said what I wanted to say three months ago.

I also considered just copying and pasting my review of the previous issue here (swapping out some of the details, of course), but I finally decided to try to write a new review of the same old thing that Johns delivers. Up until 6:30 this morning, I was still considering to pass on this review. I was watching the Michael Bay Transformers film, and I thought of spending the rest of my day catching up on all the movies I have recorded on my DVR.

Forty-five minutes into the film, I decided to delete Transformers from my DVR without watching the final hour and 45 minutes (approximately). After removing it from my list of films, I thought about going online and complaining about how bad certain parts of the film were.

It wasn’t entirely bad. The special effects were good, and Shia LaBeouf seemed to be doing as well as he could with inferior material--as did Jon Voight, whose highly acclaimed work on Midnight Cowboy and Coming Home must seem so far removed to him by now as he gives a one-note (but good) effort as “the old man who’s in charge.”

Anyway, as I thought about what I would write about why I deleted Transformers after 45 minutes, it suddenly dawned on me: Geoff Johns writes Michael Bay movies in comic book form. My complaints about Michael Bay films and Geoff Johns comics are almost always the same: Melodramatic dialog, shrill emotional reactions, mindless action for action’s sake, and convoluted plot twists that don’t have any internal logic to them.

Then I realized something else: I deleted a Michael Bay movie after 45 minutes even though I was mildly entertained and was essentially watching it for free, but I keep buying Legion of 3 Worlds even though I can’t really afford to pay for stuff I don’t like any better than I like this nonsense.

The obvious question is: Why am I buying Legion of 3 Worlds while deleting an essentially free Transformers from my DVR when my reaction to both is basically the same?

The answer is that I don’t have a nostalgic connection to the Transformers the way I do to the Legion of Super-Heroes. I recall watching a few episodes of the original Transformers animated series when it debuted in syndication in 1984--and I was mildly entertained by it--but I think my local station stopped carrying it (or maybe it moved to a new time slot). In any event, I have mostly not encountered the Transformers for the past 25 years, so it was easy for me to delete Michael Bay’s movie when I thought about what else I could be watching instead.

However, I have a deep nostalgic connection to the Legion of Super-Heroes. I first encountered them when I was six years old when I looked through Adventure Comics #344-47 at my neighbor’s house.

I couldn’t read at the time (that would begin when I started first grade about two months later), but I was able to figure out a lot of the story by looking at Curt Swan’s illustrations of Edmond Hamilton’s and Jim Shooter’s respective stories--Hamilton wrote issues #344-45, and Shooter’s very first Legion stories were in issues #346-47.

Even though I couldn’t read those stories at the time, they resonated with the six-year-old kid in me on that hot July in Boise, Idaho when the temperature was over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and a bunch of us sat on the covered patio drinking lemonade and looking at comic books.

I loved the idea of Superman as a boy who could travel into the future to hangout in a clubhouse with kids his age who also had superpowers. When they weren’t saving the galaxy (not the “universe,” Geoff Johns, just the galaxy), they might have sat around drinking lemonade together on a hot summer day. At its height, the Legion was a concept that resonated with children who liked to hangout with their own friends--including going on “adventures” in the neighborhood.

When I was 12 years old, I started collecting Legion of Super-Heroes stories for myself. They appeared in the back of Superboy at the time, and they eventually took over as the lead feature in the book--with the title of the series eventually changing to Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes and then just The Legion of Super-Heroes.

Then from the time I was 14 to 17, Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes became one of my favorite comics under the team of Cary Bates and Paul Levitz (writers) and Mike Grell, James Sherman, & Joe Staton (pencilers). The occasional issue of Batman (or another title) illustrated by Neal Adams was the only thing I looked forward to more than monthly Legion fix (at least until Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers came along in the summer of 1977).

My complaint with the Geoff Johns-scripted Legion isn’t that it isn’t the Legion I grew up reading as a kid. The Tom and Mary Bierbaum Legion stories, as well as the Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning stories, of the 1990s weren’t about my boyhood Legion either. They were about the “reboot Legion,” but I enjoyed them anyway.

Sure, the history of the Legion is filled with nonsensical plot devices that don’t hold up to close scrutiny--and I suppose that to some extent Geoff Johns is attempting to pay homage to those nonsensical stories of the Legion’s early years. However, those stories also didn’t involve brutal and graphic violence in which character’s heads were imploded or in which one character’s heat vision burned through another character’s hand (et cetera).

The mixture of brutal violence and plots filled with errors in logic is a strange brew that I just can’t enjoy. Of course, that’s what “mature superhero comics” often are at DC nowadays.

If it’s not Superboy Prime decapitating another character in a plot that doesn’t make any sense, it’s Lois Lane running around in Victoria Secret lingerie in a story that otherwise involves Lex Luthor running around in a giant robot to destroy Metropolis for no other reason than because, as he yells at Superman:
This is MY city, alien. I made it. Metropolis was nothing. No more than a faded, overambitiously named also-ran before I saved it. . . . I'll go, but I'm taking it with me. (Superman #653)
There seems to be a desire for sex and violence in contemporary comics while maintaining plots, logic, and narrative structures that date back to the Silver Age (or earlier).

In at least two recent online interviews, Alan Moore has touched upon this idea of a nostalgic love for superhero comics and the sense of making such stories more “mature” so that they can be read without feeling like a immature nerd. The following is from his April 27, 2009 interview on Newsarama:
I suspect that the comic-book-reading audience now is largely--I think the median age is late-30s or even early 40s. This is very different than when I went into the field. There’s nothing wrong with this, but I suspect the main impulse behind those older fans and their love of superheroes is probably nostalgia. It’s probably not that they find the superhero a particularly useful vehicle for their fantasies, it’s just that they feel a connection with Green Lantern or Spider-Man because that anchors them to their childhood experience.

I completely understand that. There’s something very warm and soothing about looking at an old Batman comic you haven’t looked at since you were eight years old. But whether it’s very useful as a symbol in the current day and age is another thing.

-------------------------

I mean, one of the things that struck me about the 1980s, when we had dozens of headlines that read, “Bam! Sock! Pow! Comic Books Have Grown Up!” I don’t really agree with that. In the 1980s, as I recall them, there were a few comics that were trying very, very hard to grow up, some doing a better job of it than others, but these were a few comics. The majority of comics were the same as they had always been.

After things like Watchmen, yes, some of them got a bit darker, a bit nastier, a bit more pretentious, but they still pretty much the same comics. I don’t think that comic books grew up in the mid-1980s.

I do think that the population, many of whom had deep nostalgia for comic books they had read as children, but were ashamed of being seen reading them on the subway, think that what happened in the mid-1980s with books like Watchmen gave them an excuse to carry on reading Green Lantern, because whereas while previously people might have looked at them as though they were subnormal for reading a superhero comic, now that superhero comics had been rebranded as “Graphic Novels,” it was considered sophisticated and cutting-edge to be seen reading a comic, even if it was just a bunch of old superhero stories put together in a slicker format. It looked more grown-up; it wasn’t necessarily more grown-up, but it was put together in a way that looked more socially acceptable.

I think that mid-80s period, if you look at the 20-something years since then, we’ve seen a rise in that comic-book mindset throughout most of our media. We’ve seen programs on television that are kind of reminiscent of a 1980s comic book. We’ve seen an awful lot of films that are kind of reminiscent of a 1980s comic book.
In addition to the “graphic novel” format, the tendency to throw in an image of Superboy Prime decapitating a character or Lois Lane dressed in see-through lingerie is also an attempt to make the comics feel more “mature” even though the action-oriented plot is otherwise nonsensical. And, as Moore implied, films like Transformers are also involved in this trend. We get to see Megan Fox run around in a lot of sweaty skin and not much clothing before we cut to a scene of a robot infiltrating Air Force One and making cute little noises of frustration because its attempts to hack into the plane’s military computer are stopped before it could download all the data it wants.

I disagree with Moore, though, in his thoughts that superhero comics (or even science fiction action films like Transformers) are a cultural and intellectual dead end whose time has passed. One hundred and fifty years ago, high-seas adventure stories were commonly written and marketed for 10-year-old boys, and they were similarly considered to be void of cultural and intellectual worth for an adult audience. However, Herman Melville came along and proved that high-seas adventure stories could transcend their conventions and be considered serious literature.

In fact, The Beatles accomplished a similar feat in the mid 1960s by transcending the three-minute pop song with the music they composed for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and “The White Album” (and others). I see no reason why superhero comics and science fiction action movies can’t do the same in the skilled hands of such artists as Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Warren Ellis (or in films based on novels by Arthur C. Clarke or Robert Heinlein, for instance).

Of course, not every superhero comic book or science fiction film needs to try to “transcend the material” and become serious “art” or “literature.” After all, I also enjoy Moore’s Tom Strong as well as the Heinlein-based film Starship Troopers (and others), neither of which can be effectively argued as “transcendent art” but both of which are well-made contemporary versions of pulp-styled kid’s adventure tales.

No, Geoff Johns and Michael Bay don’t need to shoot for Moore’s Watchmen, Morrison’s The Invisibles, or Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, they should at least try for natural-sounding dialog, a few low-key emotions, thoughtful and thought-provoking actions, and logical plot developments. Really, is that too much to ask for?

I won’t even go into the problems with the possibility that The Time Trapper actually is supposed to be who he’s revealed to be at the end of this current issue. Not only would such a revelation not make sense in the context of the character’s 50-year history (dating back to his appearance as The Time Master in 1958 in Wonder Woman #101) but it also doesn’t make sense in light of what The Time Trapper says on page 10 of this very issue. I can only hope that the character is trying to mess with the minds of Superman and the Legionnaires by pretending to be who he appears to be on the final page.




Paul Brian McCoy:

Well, this is just getting ridiculous.

I suppose this issue is better than any of the previous ones, but that's faint praise, to say the least. Essentially this issue is built around three points.

The first is the return of Bart Allen, and if the explanation of how this was done makes any sense to you, then congratulations. You must be smarter than I am, because I thought it sounded like nonsense--and that's not "nonsense" as in I couldn't follow the pseudo-science of it like some half-wit who's confused by Lost's use of time travel. I meant it sounded like "nonsense" in that it makes no sense whatsoever--not even as comic book pseudo-science.

In the Justice League/Justice Society crossover story called “The Lightning Saga,” the Legion (the older of the three) went back in time to "bottle up Bart’s youth." What a way to just make shit up, there, Geoff Johns. Not only does the “bottling up of a person’s youth” not make any sense given what actually happened in "The Lightning Saga," but it doesn't even attempt to actually explain what happened in that previous story--which is especially nonsensical in that those Legion Lightning Rods never worked like that before when they were used to resurrect Lightning Lad in Adventure Comics #312.

It's nonsense in the truest sense of the word.

The second point around which this issue is built is the return of Superboy--and that is the part of the book that makes this issue the best so far. The character’s resurrection seems to actually use elements of DC continuity in the manner that it has been historically established.

Usually, Johns just takes an idea, a name, or an object from continuity and then makes his own nonsensical shit up. Johns doesn't even address the fact that he's changed things from how the ideas, names, or objects were handled in DC’s long history.

He ignores the details of the previous stories and writes whatever nonsense he wants. There is no consistent internal logic to a Johns narrative. Events simply occur because they are required to happen in order to move the plot forward. They don't have to make sense as long as they might seem “cool” to an idiot.

The third point around which the issue is built is the big reveal of the Time Trapper's true identity. Now, a quick jog around the Internet makes it clear that the Time Trapper has had his identity revealed a few times over the years; it's always someone different and usually almost immediately retconned away. Hopefully this one will be no different.

How in the world this character could get the powers he has to become the Time Trapper is a mystery, but Johns will probably make some shit up next issue to explain it--or, maybe he won’t. Perhaps he’ll just leave it as a nonsensical mystery to be explained sometime in the future. Or not.

It's official. Johns is DC's Bendis.

The only difference is that Bendis's dialogue meanders around and around without saying much of anything to advance the plot or develop character, and Johns's dialogue is almost entirely exposition. Oh, and they both have a fondness for horrible jokes.

This series is just one long string of clunky, inane, nonsensical exposition that is occasionally broken up with lame excuses for humor. Aside from the constant spouting of clichés, there's no character development. There's no believable dialogue. There's not even any attempt at bringing anything beyond the most rudimentary of craft to this project.

Legion of 3 Worlds does nothing but pander to the lowest common denominator of fanboy expectations--the never fulfilled lust for mass murder as entertainment that the Stereotypical Johns Fans seem to crave.

Oh yeah, and George Perez does what Perez does.

According to interviews with Perez, Johns is writing this "Marvel Style" as an outline with dialogue--which then makes Perez responsible for fitting everything into the issues. So, if you like Perez’s over-detailed, super-cramped style that Johns's scripting experiment is forcing upon Perez, then I'm sure this will be like a straight injection of geek viagra for you.

However, if you like to be able to tell what's going on and who's doing what, then good luck to you. It's possible, but it will probably strain your eyes as you are forced to re-read passages again and again to attempt to make some sense of the nonsense.

I am a fucking idiot for continuing to buy this book.




Charles Webb:

The “Legion of Super-Heroes” is a concept with which I’ve only been partially familiar in my time as a comic reader. During the mid 1990s, I enjoyed a few issues of the two monthly titles the franchise produced but that’s about it. The team has no real grip of nostalgia for me.

However, after reading Legion of 3 Worlds #4 I kind of get it. There’s an undeniable exuberance to the characters that masks a lot of storytelling sins. Take the entirety of this miniseries, for instance--it’s more or less an extended continuity fix with the patented Johns ultraviolence tied into the now faded away Final Crisis. The whole thing is so loopy, energetic, and propulsive that I was willing to forgive the fact that it’s essentially a story “fixing” preexisting stories.

This issue continues the massive fight from last issue between the Superboy Prime-led Legion of Super-Villains and three parallel universe versions of the Legion of Super-Heroes. It also includes more of the adult Braniac 5’s plans for taking down Superboy Prime. This story is a chance for Johns to touch on running subplots from other books he’s worked on (so that’s why Starman worked at a Metropolis cemetery all those months ago) without a single caption box explaining what’s going on.

Ultimately, this series reminds me of the early (good) Zucker Brother movies--throw enough stuff at the reader/viewer and they’re bound to enjoy some of it. Not big fans of those Legion cats? Johns throws some teen heroes from the 21st century at you. Need some Superman? He’s there, punching wizards in the face. Romance? It’s creaky--and building on what I’m sure are decades-old storylines--but it’s there.

The story only works, and feels important (at least to someone who has a passing concern for DC’s inter-company storylines), because each and every character emphatically believes that it’s important. Case in point: the return of Bart Allen last issue should have felt like the same old surprise character appearance Johns is known for, but it had a tangible effect on me because the grating Superboy Prime was terrified of Kid Flash’s return (and the Legion, itself, was excited).

I sometimes feel like these characters have lives of their own, with Bart spending much of this issue zipping around tossing out one-liners at Prime, generally being alive as though the DC property somehow felt cooped up all these months after a weird, editorially-mandated death.

Here’s the part where I spend a couple of words on Perez’s art: Gorgeous as always, but also kind of challenging. His layouts are often dense beyond belief. There’s so much energy and visual information contained within that it can become distracting.

Overall, this series is the apotheosis of fan-centric product, but for all of its pandering and leveraging of 50 years of Legion history, it is thrilling product that looks beautiful to boot.

If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at Monster In Your Veins




Jason Sacks:

The first time I tried reading Legion of Three Worlds #4, it gave me a splitting headache. There was so much action, so much density of art and plot, so many pages with nine or more panels in them, my head literally started to ache.

Super-hero comics shouldn't be difficult to read, right?

The second time through the comic, I got bogged down in trying to make sense of the whole thing. So there's a bunch of cosmic villains--including Mordru, the Time Trapper, and that lame Superboy from Final Crisis--who are trying to defeat a group of about 100 heroes who all pretty much look and act the same.

The second time I made an attempt to read this comic, it didn't hurt my head but it did leave me a bit dazed and overwhelmed.

So I tried again. The third time through I decided to just kind of surf along on the wave of insanely overcrowded excitement that George Perez presents in this comic. I decided to just take Perez on his terms, enjoy the flash and the costumes and the craziness.

And the third time was a charm. I had fun with it.

Yeah, this comic is written by the controversial Geoff Johns--and I'm sure that my follow reviewers will have critical things to say about the work that Johns does in this comic.

Really, though, this comic is all about George Perez.

I think most fans would say that the high-water mark of Perez's career was Crisis on Infinite Earths. He's had many other professional successes--most notably New Teen Titans, Wonder Woman, and Avengers. However, Perez is really best known as the crazy artist who loves to draw giant super-hero mash-ups, the man who loves to fulfill the fantasies of every 12-year-old whoever thought, "I wish I could read a comic where every hero fights every villain. That would be rad!"

Well, that fantasy is exactly what Perez provides here--just as he provided in Crisis and his other famous bit of fanboy costume porn, JLA/Avengers. And, honestly, isn't that what we want out of a comic like this? Lots and lots of heroes fighting lots and lots of villains while wearing perfectly illustrated costumes? Throw in a death and a revelation or two and the formula is fulfilled.

Perez is perfectly on-message here. The comic opens with a page featuring nine panels including perfect backgrounds and a star-speckled sky. The next page gives us eight panels, and then page three features nine more panels, more incredible backgrounds, and roughly a dozen costumes.

The comic proceeds on and on, repeating its densely paneled and costumed pattern with the exception of two full-page panels and one two-page spread.

Perez is clearly wishing to give the readers a lot for their money--a spectacle to rival the scenes on the Monitor's satellite in Crisis where Perez drew literally hundreds of heroes. This type of story is the man's game, and it's what made him a legend (and which also gave him tendonitis, but I digress).

It's interesting because Perez is obviously deeply influenced by the work of Jack Kirby. It was impossible to be an artist entering the comic field in the 1970s without being influenced by Kirby. But where Kirby would invariably paint on a large campus, delivering deliriously intense four-panel grids with battles between Thor and Hercules, or the Thing and Doctor Doom, Perez's instincts go the opposite direction.

Grandeur and epic excitement come not from elegantly grand tableaux, as they did under Kirby. Grandeur and epic excitement for Perez come from a ludicrously detailed intensity. Where Kirby's art was grand because it's literally larger than life, Perez's has its power from the accumulation of details, piled one upon another such that their accumulation makes the story larger than life.

In a George Perez story, not a single square centimeter of the page is left unused. It would be absurd to waste any space. The story is too large, too epic, and too intense to allow space to be unused. Crucial details of the story would be lost if they were omitted. In order for an epic to work when illustrated by Perez, a density of image is a necessity.

We know going into a comic like this that Perez will give us his own very unique, very peculiar sort of epic. And that's what he does here. It's all a bit insane in its obsessive attention to detail, but that's what Perez is all about.

No wonder I got a headache the first time through. This comic is loud, brash, flashy, and empty-headed. Those are negatives, but also positives. They’re pretty much what we expect from a Perez epic.

Legion of 3 Worlds is the apotheosis of its very peculiar sort of story. It's pointless to expect anything other than what Perez delivers here. This comic may be the purest expression of George Perez's insanely intense storytelling since the grander moments of the original Crisis.




Kyle Garret:

[Editor’s Note: The following review contains several spoilers.]

In Phonogram 2: The Singles Club #2, writer Kieron Gillen makes the following comment about the band My Chemical Romance: “Were I twelve, I suspect they’d be the most important band in all history.” To borrow from Gillen, were I twelve, I suspect Legion of 3 Worlds #4 would be really clever and exciting.

Sadly, I’m not twelve.

The multiple Legions continue their battle with Superboy Prime’s Legion of Super-Villains. The newly resurrected Bart Allen has stunned Superboy Prime, at least for the moment, while Brainiac 5 and Bart manage to explain the character’s death and resurrection over just a few panels--and while it might not entirely make sense, at least it doesn’t overly complicate things the way the set up for his return did last issue.

However, the Time Trapper intervenes--taking Superman and the original Legion founders away with him--turning the tide of the battle back into Superboy Prime’s favor. Mordru then gives the Super Brat a vague alert to head north, as that’s where the Legion will be introducing a weapon to stop him--“something that has taken a thousand years to transcend.” That quote is stupid for a lot of reasons, but I’ll leave it alone for the moment.

The three Brainiac 5s and their respective teams attempt to put the finishing touches on their last gambit, but are interrupted by Prime. Polar Boy and the returning Sun Boy (I’m pretty sure we all saw that coming) try to hold off Prime as Dawnstar and Wildfire attempt to finish the final weapon. They succeed, of course (more on that in a moment), and Polar Boy and Sun Boy are saved from certain doom by . . . Superboy! Yes, it’s Conner Kent, back from the dead--as we all knew he would be.

So let’s look at the resurrection of Superboy, shall we? His body is dug up by Star Boy exactly one thousand years prior to the battle in this issue, so that Brainiac 5 can unleash him. The obvious question, of course, is: Why not start the process to bring him back, oh, say, a day earlier? Or the day after he originally died? Why would they possibly have to have him come back on the day of this battle? Oh, that’s right, logic doesn’t apply when we’re dealing with dramatic effect.

But I think we’re missing something even more crucial: Why does it take one thousand years to bring him back? Brainiac 5 explains that it’s a “Kryptonian Chrysalis”--“The same one that regenerated Superman’s body when he was left for dead by Doomsday.” A few panels later he states, “It took this chamber months to heal Superman from the wounds he suffered.” So do the math on that. It took months to bring back a full Kryptonian after he was beaten to death. So, naturally, it would take one thousand years to bring back a partial Kryptonian after he was beaten to death. And Conner Kent was a hybrid clone!

Perhaps you’re thinking, well, it was the non-Kryptonian part of him that required the extra time. Well, that’s confusing, too! While the body would have both Superman’s and Lex Luthor’s DNA, some more of Luthor’s DNA was added (a strand of hair) only about ten minutes before Connor was released from the chrysalis! So why does it take one thousand years to bring him back?

Because it was needed for dramatic effect.

This plot ignores such questions as: Why didn’t Superman put him in the chamber after he died?

As if this all weren’t bad enough, I’m leaving out the kicker: Johns reveals who the Time Trapper really is!

That sound you hear is all longtime Legion fans who have read this issue slamming their heads on their desks.

We all know that the Time Trapper shouldn’t be someone we know. That’s been tried before. And it was awful. The Time Trapper should be an entity, something close the living embodiment of entropy. He should be the character from Legion of Superheroes volume 3 #50, basically. Other incarnations don’t really work.

So what’s good about this comic? George Perez’s art is enjoyable, the right blend of busy and pretty, although it seems that even he is having a difficult time keeping this ridiculous story straight.

For all my complaints about the story, Johns does a great job writing the three Brainiac 5s--but most of their interaction involves the older version insulting the two younger versions.

I had high hopes for this series. I actually had high hopes even after the insanity that was the end of the last issue. However, this issue is just so . . . mediocre. I suppose my love of the Legion and of Perez’s art blinded me to one simple fact: This is Geoff Johns written “event comic,” and I should know better by now.

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