Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Legion of Super-Heroes #15 review

An eerie voice wakes sleeping Legionnaire Glorith and bids her follow their words. In a daze, she enters a glowing cloud and finds herself in Barcelona, and attacked by a mob whose members want to burn her for the witch that she is. Back at headquarters the next morning, pals Dragonwing and Chemical Kid are worried, but Harmonia reckons she's probably just gone off to visit mentor the Black Witch across space. Senior Legionnaires Brainiac 5 and Cosmic Boy take different sides of the argument.

The debate over whether to take action is curtailed as the Science Police summon the Legion to tackle a 'timestorm' in, you guessed it, Barcelona. Mon-El and Ultra Boy take point, arriving in Spain's largest city to find dinosaurs fighting cavemen. They're soon saving the citizenry, aided by later arrivals Brainiac 5, Harmonia, Dragonwing and Chemical Kid. Glorith, meanwhile, is about to be burned at the stake, and with no suitable spell ready to save herself, is in big trouble ...

If you're not a Legion fan, the parade of personages I mention will likely mean nothing. If you're a first-timer actually reading the comic, there's no problem. Writer Paul Levitz introduces each new arrival with a short caption giving name, homeworld and powers. The personalities, he reveals via their words.
These panels, for example (click on image to enlarge) demonstrate Brainiac 5's super-intelligence - an ability with no visual hook - while Harmonia commentates on it and younger members Chemical Kid and Dragonwing react. Earlier in the issue Harmonia is shown to be a rationalist, and here we see that's she has a sense of humour. Levitz's characters are never one-note, never interchangeable - younger writers should be studying his approach to plot structure and character building.

If there's a weakness in Levitz's current Legion run, it's that he takes a little too much time getting to the big threats. The good character work he does could be contained within big splashy storylines. This month's one-shot tale looks to be signalling the return of an old Legion foe, and it's an entertaining entry in the Legion canon (a phrase to make longtime fans laugh and cry alike). But the last several issues have been building towards the debut of a new Fatal Five villain team. There's one page this issue showing Levitz hasn't forgotten this, as Legion Espionage Squad head Chameleon Boy summons Shrinking Violet and Lightning Lass to a meeting, but I'd rather we got to that main event than spend an issue building up the mystery of Glorith.

There's my quibble. One thing this issue isn't is boring, with some entertaining uses of powers and the aforementioned strong characterisation. There's even a 'hurrah' moment as a powerless Glorith does exactly what I was telling her to do in order to save herself.

And the story looks glorious. Artist Francis Portela is back after a few issues away and perhaps as a reward, Levitz sets the story in his home town, one thousand years from today. Portela grabs the baton and runs with it, showing a city that while evolved, is recognisable to 21st-century eyes. The key is the inclusion of Gaudi's magnificent Sagrad Familia, and the conceit that the cathedral has continued growing for ten centuries. The futuristic structure, grown to the size of a city, looks magnificent, and it's the perfect backdrop for this tale of superheroes vs cavemen and dinosaurs.

The Legion members are majestic, sleek and powerful. Even the odder-looking members, such as Dragonwing and her magical pakamac, ooze nobility and heroism. The dinosaurs, meanwhile, would delight any ten-year-old child reading. And is that a Barcelona FC player I see vanishing into the timestorm? Page after page, Portela gifts us with great storytelling and fantastic-looking participants, enhanced by the bold colours of Javier Mena.

And isn't that a terrific T-Rex on Steve Lightle's cover? What big teeth, and all that.

It's a plea I've made previously, but again, if you've never tried the Legion and like smart, great-lookng superhero action soaps, give the Legion of Super-Heroes a try.

11 comments:

  1. Great review as usual. I thought it was just me who thought that the plots are moving forward too slowly...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Heck no, I've moaned a little on occasion...

      Delete
  2. Agree with all of your points, especially how Levitz's excellent characterizations need to be embedded in more action.

    I've got the impression that, frustrating as the book has been, the pacing and style are a very deliberate attempt to steer the book through the choppy & murky waters of DC's editorial dictorat (GL is big, make a GL a key member of the book. Now never mention him again. XS is in/ XS doesn't exist/ XS maybe exists but you can't mention her because another writer wants her. Etc).

    I hope the Legion can start telling great stories and isn't just treading water until Giffen turns it into his own slaughterfest again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You make sense, Ric. Fitting in with DC's linewide reboots has pretty much defined, and often hobbled, the LSH series for the past 25 years or something. We're lucky Paul Levitz makes as much sense of things as he does!

      Fingers crossed no slaughterfest, having Levitz around will hopefully temper Giffen, as Giffen sparks Levitz.

      Delete
  3. Great review, Martin. And man, Portela's art looked better than it ever has before. It's obvious how much effort he put into getting his hometown just right. It was stunning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeedy. That's twice this year that Barcelona has featured in a DC comic. It looked good in Shade too.

      Delete
  4. I also enjoyed this issue more than previous. I think Portela's art helped out a lot.

    And this seemed like the beginning hints at a Time Trapper story to me. Perhaps after the upcoming Fatal Five one?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That would suit me, I always enjoy the Time Trapper, and algorithm being named Glorith, it seems appropriate.

      Delete
  5. Harmonia does seem to be fitting in very well. I like her background flirtation with Brainy and that Brainy is becoming less and less the ass hat of the Threeboot. Those two and Dreamy as intellectual pillars of the team has been fun to read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Which reminds me, I pulled out the Universo Project from the Baxter run to re-read, I must get to it; I loved those four issues.

      Delete
  6. I only really dug the LEGION during Waid's run, but I'm thinking about picking up this run based on Levitz's reputation.

    Scott
    http://www.ReconditePictures.com

    ReplyDelete