Review: Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes collected hardcover (DC Comics)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Of the three Geoff Johns-written Superman stories I've read recently, Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes is my favorite. Last Son utilized more of Superman's supporting cast, and Escape from Bizarro World was a visually intriguing look at one of Superman's classic villains -- but neither story had Superman being super like his team-up with the Legion.

There are moments in this book when you can, indeed, hear the John Williams theme playing in the background. Johns teams with new Action Comics artist Gary Frank, and together they give this story a perfect sense of pacing; in the climactic battle, Superman falls from the sky, and Frank holds the moment just long enough before Superman's triumphant rise. Frank's first real image of Superman in costume is equally iconic, as a falling Clark becomes a flying Superman, and you can just imagine the red-and-blue blur in the middle. It doesn't hurt that Frank's Superman looks remarkably like Christopher Reeve (likely intentionally), especially in profile.

I didn't necessarily feel like I got my Legion "fix" in this story, but at the same time, that left me just craving Legion stories more. Johns for the most part bypasses the Legion's "Big Three"--Cosmic Boy, Lightning Lad, and Saturn Girl--in favor of less iconic Legionnaires like Wildfire, Dawnstar, Colossal Boy, and Polar Boy.

As opposed to the Legion's appearance in Justice League of America: The Lightning Saga, I felt Johns mostly stayed away from Legion in-jokes and obscure references in this book; instead, the Legionnaries sniped at each other a lot (especially Wildfire), and I wasn't always sure who did or didn't like whom and why. Still, much of the fun of Legion for me is the variety of powers and costumes, and in that, Johns delivered.

I know that not too long ago I kiddingly railed against DC Comics's move to foil stamp the front of all their hardcovers. It does still annoy me -- but the holographic foil on the front case of Superman and the Legion of Super-Heroes, I must admit, is pretty cool. I do wish there'd been more additional material in this book, though; the two-page collage of Gary Frank's sketches is pretty slim compared to what you might find elsewhere.

As with most Johns-written books, there was a strong thematic thread here, this time of isolation and the different ways the characters react to it. The main villain, Earth-Man, takes revenge on the Legion because he feels they spurned him and left him alone; Superman, meanwhile, flashes back on how isolated he felt in his childhood until the Legion took him in. Earth reaches the brink of war here because of their isolationist tendencies, contrasted with the love between Colossal Boy and Chameleon Girl. I don't know that Johns uncovers any new ground here in pointing out Superman's human-but-not-human status, but the themes and inter-relation of the plot makes the collection reading experience feel more complete.

[Contains full covers (and variant covers), introduction by Keith Giffen.]

I can't wait for the Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds (shouldn't it be universes) collection that follows this up; but even moreso, I'm curious to see the shape of the Legion that comes out of that story -- DC's set high stakes to produce a definitive Legion series, and I'm curious what they'll come up with. As for me, I'm heading toward a bit of Green Arrow/Black Canary, and then perhaps some Teen Titans from there.
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4 comments:

  1. This book was pretty enjoyable, but as I was reading it I couldn't help but think, I'd like this a lot more if I knew anything about the old Legion. My only Legion exposure has been the Waid/Kitson run, so I kinda felt left out.

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  2. Enjoyed this. It was great to see the Legion I grew up with. I hope "Legion of Three Worlds" allows for more original Legion stories after Final Crisis.

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  3. I enjoyed the story, but like Jeffrey, my Legion exposure was pretty limited. Nonetheless, I felt like Johns gave us a pretty good grasp of who the characters were. I liked it a lot, though some of the longtime Legion fans I've spoken to are (understandably) a good deal more enthusiastic about it than I am.

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  4. Seems Geoff Johns isn't writing Legion right away after Legion of Three Worlds and the current series ends -- I wonder if the Legion will just be guest-stars in Superman for a while? (Rumors of a new L.E.G.I.O.N. series? Awesome.)

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