It's 1938 and on the streets of America, the mystery men begin to emerge, changing the course of one young boy's life. The kid is Paulie Lincoln, who narrates the first story in DC's anthology series looking at how its universe has developed over seven decades. Young Paulie is in a kid gang, but not of the type seen in many a DC comic of the Golden Age, battling crime with only wit, knuckles and the odd baseball bat. No, Paulie and pal Jimmy are young thugs, messenger boys for the local protection racket, and they look set for a life of crime until they see the Crimson Avenger - DC's first masked mystery man - mete out his own brand of justice.
An understandably perturbed Paulie is fascinated as newspaper reports of more mystery men, and actual superheroes, appear - Flash, Zatara, the Spectre, Hawkman, the Sandman, Hourman - but Jimmy remains gung-ho, willing to take his chances with the Mob. It's not as if he sees a choice, having been born into Suicide Slum during the Great Depression. Finally, an encounter with the Atom and the Sandman seems set to spur them on to decide, one way or another, what path they'll choose.
Paulie, we know from the narrative set-up in which he shares his memories with an unknown interviewer, turns solid citizen. Jimmy? I guess we'll find out in future issues.
Or maybe not. That won't make this story any less satisfying. It's an intensely well-crafted piece by, apprpriately, three generations of storyteller. Comics legend Joe Kubert inks penciller son Andy, while Len Wein - who forged his own legend in the generation between the two - provides the story. Good-looking framing sequence by Wein and artist Scott Kolins apart, 'In the beginning' just reeks of the Thirties. Wein captures the speech rhythms of the day ('That's bullpuckey an' you know it!') while the Kuberts make the streets of Depression America sing. Training and lineage mean Andy Kubert can homage his father's classic style anyway, but the latter inking a story set during his youth ensures extra authenticity and heart. And on a story such as this, with kids at the centre, it helps that the Kuberts can essay realistic looking children, not the miniature adults we so often see in comics. The sympathetic colouring of Brad Anderson - the naturalism of the streets is gradually invaded by the bright colours of the mystery men - only adds to the magic. And Rob Leigh allows his lettering to be a little more melodramatic than usual, perfectly suiting the material.
The tale reminded me of the Just a Story shorts DC published in the Forties, moral fables for the everyman. And given that the few I've seen were little gens, that's another compliment.
There's a second story, in which newshound Scoop Scanlon and snapper Rusty James - who appeared in the earliest issues of Action Comics - investigate appearances by Dr Fate and the Spectre and explain away their feats. Well, the logic goes, if a stage magician such as John Zatara can fake this sort of thing ...
The short, Snapshot: Reflection, features another accomplished script by Wein, while the illustrations are the work of JG Jones at his realistic best and colour artist Alex Sinclair. The look is gorgeous, naturalistic, but easily accommodates the supernatural moments.
Their combination of talent, craft and graft ensures none of the creators whose work features is likely to prove a flash in the pan; indeed, Kubert Sr and Wein have already gifted a lifetime of great stories and characters to us (think Sgt Rock, Hawkman, Tor, Wolverine, Swamp Thing, Human Target and more). DCU: Legacies is as much a tribute to the craft of the comics creator as the endurance of the characters themselves.