Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Adventure Comics #523 review

It's the first day at Legion Academy for Glorith, apprentice to former Legion of Super-Heroes member the Black Witch. Dispatched from the Sorcerer's World to Earth, she's being called, says the Witch, by her 'dark destiny'. There's nothing like sending a girl off with a kindly word!

Poor Glorith is either a bit dim or spectacularly ill-briefed, as she seems to have no real idea of what the Legion is or what the Academy is about. Her confusion makes her a splendid point of view character for this debut story of the Legion's training section, which has been around since the 1960s but rarely taken centre stage. Rarer still are the times a student has gone on to the Legion proper, a point not lost on Power Boy but, optimist that he is, he reminds classmate Lamprey - like him, due to graduate soon - that there are other ways to serve. 

That's not an attitude I expect is shared by Chemical Kid, a spoilt brat who likely thinks the Legion will be lucky to have him

Comet Queen is simply thrilled to be part of the Legion, however junior, even if she is having to repeat her previous classes due to an incident we're promised will be explored soon.

Variable Lad manifests different abilities each time out, and we don't get much clue as to his personality, but he has a lovely smile. For a devil-horned purple grub. 

Dragonwing looks like a DayGlo Goth, but seems decidedly cheery, taking Glorith under her wing. Mind, she plays the big sister by dragging naive Glorith on the 31st century's equivalent of a shoplifting expedition alongside Chemical Kid. Fair enough, the latter does pay for the booze after the event via his unnamed father's credits, but they do break and enter into an off-limits shop. So far as Dragonwing and Chemical Kid are concerned, normal rules don't apply to them.

The final member of the freshman year is Gravity Kid, whose barmy facial topiary and revealing costume hint that he's the rumoured gay Academy member. Too obvious, say I - look at how much Chemical Kid loves clothes shopping (hey, at least it's a different stereotype!). Whatever, Gravity Kid seems a nice guy. And yes, I did spot the scene in which a shirtless Power Boy is chatting to a shirtless Gravity Kid, but after hours clothes don't seem terribly popular at Legion Academy, with Lamprey also near naked.

The action takes place after Duplicate Girl - formerly Triplicate Girl and Duo Damsel - decides to teach these reckless kids a lesson - well, she is principal along with husband Bouncing Boy. She enlists teacher Night Girl to take on the hungover students and their more sober, but still sleepy, classmates in an early morning game of 'grab the ball from the incredibly experienced superheroine'. One of them does manage it, but not until we've seen examples of the whole class using their abilities, if not their brains.

Paul Levitz writes and Phil Jimenez pencils, though the demarcation isn't that precise, with, we've been told, a fair amount of co-plotting going on. It makes sense to maximise the collaboration, as Jimenez has written a good few decent comic books, and some superb ones. Mainly, though, he draws. Beautifully. The characters are distinctive, with their own ways of holding themselves, of moving. You only need look at the twinkle in Gravity Kid's eyes, for example, to see that while he's basically sensible - look at how proudly he points to his Legion Flight Ring - he has a mischievous side. Comet Queen is ditzily delightful, puzzled Glorith demands to be cuddled, and so on.

His treatment of the older characters is equally smart, with Duplicate Girl's determination not to let these kids make too many mistakes obvious in her posture. Bouncing Boy's relaxed attitude is backed up by a confidence absent in his early years with the Legion. And Night Girl - whoa, she's sex on a stick, in the tightest leather costume you ever did see. I'm thrilled to see that Night Girl, one of the original Legion of Substitute-Heroes, has a home here. Now if that beehive could be just a tad bigger - a foot would do - and the daft jangly earrings were to return ...

Pleasingly, Jimenez is taking care not to fall back on just one body shape. Where Night Girl is va-va-voom, Duplicate Girl is athletic, Glorith slender and Black Witch majestically terrifying. 

The backgrounds, too, are top-notch, as we get our first real-look at the Metropolis suburb of Montauk. I don't think I've seen a Legion mall trip since Superboy was first brought to the 30th century and visited the Nine Planets Ice Cream Shop, and it's all rather intriguing. The architecture and environment is that created by Keith Giffen and his artistic colleagues in the early Eighties, but it stands up today. 

And it's all inked by regular Jimenez collaborator Andy Lanning, who always brings out the best in pencillers. The Hi-Fi colourist does an amazing job with so many characters and settings, but a reminder - Night Girl and Bouncing Boy's hair is black, not mid-brown. There's little to say about the work of Steve Wands; it's always first-rate and therefore usually overlooked. But we'd be lost without his lettering.

As for team veteran Paul Levitz, he pulls off a tremendous balancing act, introducing around a dozen characters and even managing to get some stories going. Which kids will make it into the Legion? What happened to bring Comet Queen back to school? And what is Glorith's destiny? 

Longtime readers will recall Glorith as one of the Legion's deadliest, most interesting enemies, a time witch from the planet Baaldur. Strictly speaking, the current version of the Legion never met that Glorith, they only knew the Time Trapper's henchwoman who wound up devolved to protoplasm. Still, the name is drenched with foreboding, and while previous Gloriths were platinum blondes and the new girl is altogether darker, she's wearing Glorith Purple, and her headscarf evokes blonde hair. Scary.

Or not. Perhaps 'Glorith' is the 31st-century equivalent of Britney. I'd be fine with that. I think I'm fine with whatever Levitz does - he's a sure hand, a steady hand, but he does sleight of hand too. One way or another, he'll surprise us. On the basis of this first issue, I hope Legion Academy is around to surprise us for awhile.

11 comments:

  1. Well, Tellus, Magnetic Kid and Dawstar were all academy graduates, but it is odd that Jed was in the academy the same time as Dawnstar and Pol and Tellus got into the Legion before Lamprey and Nightwind who were in the Academy longer. And whatever happened to Crystal Kid? But yeah, lets get Lamprey, Power Lad and Nightwind on the team.

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  2. Power Lad/Boy doesn't have a unique ability that sets him apart from Mon-el or Ultra Boy, does he? I'm not sure Lamprey can do anything Lighting Lady/Lad can't do better. I may be off a bit on my Legion history but weren't Chemical King and Timber Wolf also academy graduates?

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  3. I loved this book. Best issue out this month so far I think and what makes it work is the rare modrn comics event of a writer & gifted artist co-plotting the entire venture.
    As you say Jiminez has written/drawn a surprising number of very good books over the years aand while I took a long time to appreciate his work Adventure Comics is the current pinnacle of that achievment and his artwork has definitly evolved somewhat. More relaxed and experessive than ever this is a rare comics treat as with the setting of the 31st Century his design sense is being allowed to really let rip in the same way any talented artist should - Keith Giffens work being the honorable prime example!

    I loved the book, Levitz makes the world of the future believeable and intresting to follow and with the obvious enthusiasm & imagination Jiminez is channelling this could be a legendary creative team in the making.

    One small question arisises for me - We can agree that a few years have passed since the end of the 80s run and their recent return in Action Comics but is it feasable that the likes of Power Boy, Comet Queen, and even Harlak are still either Academy members or as youthful as ever? I'm partially thinking of the aging of Myg/Karate Kid in Legion of 3 Worlds but is there any consensus on how much time passed since LSH #63 and the return in Action Comics?

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  4. Todd, the workings of the Legion Academy graduation programme are indeed puzzling. Crystal Kid is still around, I think - he was in LSH #6, at least.

    Christian, I reckon you're right about Power Boy having no unique powers - he's invulnerable and super-strong, yes? But the unique powers rule was done away with th allow both Ranzz's to toss lightning at the same time.

    Dave, I've not heard any theories as to the passage of time - one for Paul Levitz's Facebook page, perhaps? I'm curious too, even a ballpark estimate would do. I don't think we can use such things as how old the Ranzz boys look now, because different Legionnaires' species may age at different rates. Then there's that old Seventies story by Levitz (The Legion's Super-Secret, Superboy & the Legion of Super-Heroes #235) in which Superboy learned that the team were taking an age retardation serum. Tut.

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  5. Yeah, this is one case where I'm trying to noth think about it too hard -- which is at odds with one of the greatest pleasures of Legion fandom -- thinking about things way too hard.

    It was good to see Harlak again! I'd forgotten all about him!

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  6. I still can't remember Harlak - I must look him up!

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  7. I enjoyed this issue greatly; Jimenez really made it beautiful.

    And there's a rumored gay Academy student? That must be Jimenez's doing; since he is himself gay. I mean, I wouldn't say Levitz wouldn't do it; but it doesn't really sound like his idea.

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  8. There is indeed. It could come from Levitz - he can't be unaware of the Legion's big gay fanbase.

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  9. Again, I'm not saying it can't be Levitz... but it shows up in a book where a known gay author is co-plotting? Points more to Jimenez than Levitz.

    And how big is the Legion gay fanbase actually? Bigger than other superhero comics? Or more outspoken ever since the whole five years later reveal that Svaughn was a transgender person in a relationship with a man, and Vi and Ayla were in a relationship?

    Though, granted, the Annual does imply Vi and Ayla are still together in that way, but that was co-plotted most likely by Giffen.

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  10. I get the impression the LSH's gay fanbase is bigger than most, Magnus, in the same way that the X-Men fanbase is. It may be something to do with a feeling different, and then belonging.

    I'm in a Legion amateur press alliance and probably a fifth of the current membership is gay. It used to be about a third.

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  11. That still doesn't give me the idea that the gay fans of the LSH are more than the gay fans of the Avengers, or the Teen Titans. Perhaps they're just more vocal, because gay characters have been a large part of a certain period of the LSH... while in other comics, you do have ocassional gay characters, but it's not as foremost as it was in the 5YL period.

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