Paul Levitz has been one of my favorite writers for DC ever since he first began writing the adventures of the Justice Society of America from Earth-Two with All-Star Comics #63 in 1976 (he co-wrote #62 with Gerry Conway). Before his first solo JSA story, I had read his Aquaman stories in Adventure Comics and the four issues of Stalker he did with Steve Ditko*--and I enjoyed those stories. However, it was with his work in All-Star Comics and Superboy (and the Legion of Super-Heroes) that made him one of my favorite writers.
To this day, he is probably my fourth favorite writer of DC Comics after Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Steve Englehart. Thus, it has been with great anticipation that I have been awaiting Levitz’s return as a regular writer for DC with Superman/Batman, Legion of Super-Heroes, and Adventure Comics (starring Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes--the original Superboy, no less!)
I reviewed Levitz’s first issue of Legion here, but I didn’t pick up his first issue of Superman/Batman until about two weeks after it came out (because I wasn’t paying attention). I enjoyed both of those stories, but this first issue by Levitz on Adventure Comics is the one that I have been looking forward to the most.
Unfortunately, it’s a bit of a disappointment.
As I understand it, based on advanced promotional copy, Levitz’s Adventure Comics is supposed to feature stories from the Jerry Siegel, Edmund Hamilton, and Jim Shooter era that ran from 1958 to 1970. In other words, this series will feature Levitz writing the adventures of the 1960s version of the Legion--which I have been eager to see him do for decades.
Additionally, the promotional copy has indicated that Levitz is going to be presenting something like "The Secret Origin of Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes." This news also interested me greatly, as one of my all-time favorite stories is “The Untold Origin of the Justice Society” that Levitz wrote in DC Special #29 in 1977. The idea of Levitz now giving us the untold origin of the Legion appeals to the longtime Legion and Levitz fan in me.
Based on the last page of this issue’s story, it would appear that the untold origin is going to begin next issue: “Next: Brande Speaks (and the real story of how the Legion was founded). Thus, I was a bit disappointed when this issue ended up being more of a lightweight introduction to the characters rather than an actual story.
The plot here is that Clark Kent decides to play hooky from Smallville High (Superman played hooky from school when he was a teenager?) so that he could visit the 30th century and hang out with his friends in the Legion. While there (while then?), he has a list of things he wants to do that he can’t do in the 20th century--much like the list that Conner "New Superboy" Kent had 11 issues ago in Adventure Comics (third series) #1.
While the plot device of Superboy checking off a list may only be a year old, the story itself actually does seem like it might have been a Jerry Siegel plot from 50 years ago:
- A superspeed flight to Mars to deliver a much-needed vaccine for a medical emergency (not one of the items on Superboy’s “To Do” list),
- A one-on-nine baseball game against his Legion teammates, so that he could play a sport full-out instead of having to hold back on using his abilities (which was one of the items on his list), and
- Preventing the destruction of the Legion’s headquarters by stopping a fire before it reaches the “main reactor feed” following yet another of Brainiac Five’s laboratory explosions.
In this story, though, whatever the Legion doesn’t want Superboy to remember about his visit is simply wiped from his mind by Saturn Girl. In this way, the story is reminiscent of more recent comic books--such as Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis from 2004.
There’s also a bit that was borrowed from the second episode of the second season of Smallville as Clark completes a task that allows him to check off “Kiss a girl without my glasses on.”**
After reading the issue, I struggled with whether to give the story a three-bullet rating or a two-and-a-half-bullet rating. I ultimately went with the lower rating because I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I should. A three-bullet rating indicates that the issue is an “average comic book”--that the writing and illustration are adequate, and the story is entertaining (though not memorable).
As I write this review about how Levitz has borrowed plot points from Jerry Siegel, Brad Meltzer, Geoff Johns, and the Smallville television series and incorporated them into a re-introduction to the Silver Age Legion, I’m half tempted to raise my score. Ultimately, though, I just didn’t enjoy the issue for two reasons--one rather minor reason, and the other being a more significant reason.
First, there are two places where Superboy indicates that he would like to take an in-depth tour of Metropolis in the 30th century, but he doesn’t get around to completing that task. Of course, that task itself could take 50 issues to complete (if we really want to get “in depth”); what we get here, though, is Superboy exclaiming, “This is amaaaazing! I’ve never even gotten to explore Metropolis in my century—and this looks like something out of a sci-fi movie!”
Unfortunately, we’ll have to take Superboy’s word for it since a few cityscapes are all we actually get to see of 30th-century Metropolis; even then, the architecture is simply rendered in a “futuristic style” that can be easily found in the 20th century. The buildings look like a mixture of Populuxe, Le Corbusier’s International Style, and I.M. Pei’s Formalism approach. It’s all very “futuristic,” but it’s certainly nothing that Superboy couldn’t find in the architecture in Seattle, New York, Paris, and Hong Kong in the late 20th century--which is the time that Clark Kent would now have had to have been a teenager.
Though I wish Levitz had actually explored the idea of Metropolis 1,000 years in the future, I can’t fault him for not doing so--though I then wish he hadn’t had Superboy mention it (not once, but twice).
Similarly, I can’t really fault illustrator Kevin Sharpe for not depicting what the architecture 1,000 years in the future might actually be like. After all, stories starring the Legion of Super-Heroes have always shown a 30th-century Metropolis (and now 31st-century Metropolis) that looks like a cross between the various “futuristic” architectural styles of the 20th century.
What I can fault Sharpe for, though, is the inconsistency of his figures from one page to the next. To some extent, this inconsistency in the artwork might be attributed to there being two inkers on the book. While different inking styles might be somewhat to blame, the real problem appears to be that Sharpe doesn’t draw faces consistently.
All of the characters appear to have faces that look more like those belonging to wax figures rather than to flesh-and-blood people. Even more disturbing is that they look like the faces of wax figures in a very warm environment. The faces of the characters aren’t exactly "melting," but they look to be very soft and malleable. Saturn Girl, in particular, seems to be incapable of holding the shape of her face--to the point where I was sort of hoping we were going to discover that it was really Chameleon Boy impersonating Saturn Girl.
While I do not believe that Sharpe is a “bad artist,” he isn’t my choice for an illustrator who is supposed to be depicting the 1960s-styled adventures of the Legion of Super-Heroes. I would prefer a style more akin to the level of “futuristic verisimilitude” that Carmine Infantino, Curt Swan, and Murphy Anderson achieved in the scenes set on Krypton in “The Origin of Superman” from Amazing World of Superman in 1973.
Of course, Swan was the Legion artist of the 1960s, so an updated style somewhat similar to his would be perfect for this series. Short of that, I would have liked to have seen the illustrator of this issue’s primary cover, Scott Clark, work on the interior story as well. His cover looks like a cross between the styles of Mike Grell (the Legion artist of the 1970s along with Dave Cockrum) and Kevin O'Neill’s work on his and Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
I’ll definitely continue to read Levitz’s Adventure Comics work (for at least a year)--especially as the next issue gives us the untold origin of the Legion. Still, I would be more interested in this series if an illustrator more appropriate for the Legion could be found. I’d rather see Sharpe work on a Clayface story (either Matt Hagen or Preston Payne), but without Batman.
* With DC apparently being interested in reprinting all of their Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko material (though only Ditko’s The Creeper has received the Kirby treatment thus far), I hope they see fit to collect Stalker.
Obviously, it wasn’t a big seller in 1975 (though it never was given a chance to build an audience, either). However, it is really some of the finest illustration work that Ditko did for DC (teamed with Wally Wood as his inker).
This brief four-issue series by Levitz, Ditko, and Wood should be made available along with whatever extras can be added--perhaps a fifth issue that may have been produced but never published, et cetera.
** Of course, as anyone knows who has read Larry Niven’s excellent essay “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex,” this task is the PG-rated version of a task that Superboy might have also wanted to travel to the 30th century to complete--with “Ph-Phantom Girl?” again being the female legionnaire best suited to help him complete it.
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