Review: Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 23, 2009

[Contains spoilers for Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds.]

As should come as no surprise, Geoff Johns and George Perez's Final Crisis: Legion of Three Worlds is a big book of caped and costumed superhero fun. Johns not only takes the opportunity to bend the classic Legion of Super-Heroes mission alongside twenty-first century social issues, but also amends what many readers will see as poor choices made by DC Comics in the time leading up to Final Crisis. Be warned, however -- even as I'd venture there's something here for everyone, to really understand every detail of this story requires a knowledge of DC Comics' Legion lore that this reader, to be sure, didn't have.

Johns succeeds with the Legion here much in the same way he did with Green Lantern: Rebirth, reviving the classic interpretation while preserving the modern versions. All three Legions get a place -- the newest Legion as stories from Earth-Prime, the Zero Hour Legion shunted to a parallel Earth though remembered through the remaining speedster XS, and the classic Legion as the new continuity. In this, and in some slight of hand involving the Final Night crossover and the modern Superboy and Supergirl's meetings with the Legion, Johns establishes that all the Legion stories you love still did happen, won't be forgotten, and are integral to the current Legion. Most everything included (sorry, John Byrne Superman years) and very little left out.

In the past, Legion has always paralleled themes of racial and global harmony, as teenagers from different "worlds" join to live and work together. Johns' new Legion status quo has xenophobia run rampant on Earth (similar, we could say, to issues facing the United States) while the rest of the universe looks to disassociate itself from Earth because of their xenophobia (much the same, again, to the tarnished reputation of the United States world-wide). Into this comes Johns' Legion, young adults from different backgrounds working together against the push and pull of their own planets; it's a small tweak, but one that revitalizes the relevancy of the Legion much the same as the Green Lantern series has been an allegory for the plight of New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina.

The big news however, at least for me, is that Johns uses Legion of Three Worlds to resurrect Superboy and Kid Flash, both controversially killed since Infinite Crisis. I already knew about the resurrections, but I was quite surprised that Superboy's return related to Starman's actions in Justice Society. Much the same, I knew Kid Flash Bart Allen would be back via Brainiac 5's lightning rods, but not that the original, "forgotten" team up of the three Legions involved rescuing baby Bart and his cousin Jenni from the Reverse Flash. Johns ties together plots from this past year's Superman and Justice Society with nary a thread left hanging -- rare in these days -- and the execution is very, very impressive.

Legion of Three Worlds follows the classic Legion recruiting some Multiversal help to defeat the rampaging Superboy-Prime of Infinite Crisis fame. Prime recruits his own Legion of Super-Villains, allowing Johns to delve into extreme Legion apocrypha and spotlight even more esoteric Legion characters. It's here unfortunately where Legion of Three Worlds shows the difficulties inherit especially in the classic Legion series: there's just so many characters and relationships. That Wildfire has an unrequited love for Dawnstar I get, and also that Lightning Lord is Lightning Lad's brother, but when we get into the White Witch/Black Witch/Mordru situation, I for one was hopelessly confused. One hopes that in Adventure Comics or wherever the Legion may appear next, Johns and subsequent writer Paul Levitz have the space to take things more slowly and let new readers get to know the characters better.

In truth I've kept up better with the post-Zero Hour and Infinite Crisis Legions, who largely take a back seat in this tale. Indeed there are some nice moments, both "cute" -- the inclusion of the every grouchy Gates, that the second Ferro Lad is just called "Ferro" and that we once called Phantom Girl "Apparition" -- and also that Johns cleans up some trailing Legion plotines, like the second Lightning Lad stuck in Element Lad's body. But the two alternate Brainiacs, who get the most screen-time, spend much of it bickering at one another in a rather rudimentary way -- the second Brainiac sits in awe of the adult Legionnaires, while the third Brainiac has only snide comments for anyone over the age of eighteen. It's a very rough distillation of the temperament of the two Legions -- likely all Johns had space for -- but the result feels somewhat simplistic.

Regardless, Legion of Three Worlds deserves a special place alongside George Perez's JLA/Avengers and likely also JLA/Titans, Kingdom Come, and Green Lantern: Rebirth. All of these are books that deftly celebrate DC Comics minutia through echoed words and phrases, recreated postures and poses, and more in-jokes packed into the background than you'll find anywhere other than an issue of Ambush Bug. The book begins in the thirty-first century Superman Museum, and the artifacts here -- Dubbilex, the Tangent Superman, Superboy's original jacket -- are just a taste of what's to come. There's material here for DC readers from the Legion's beginning to just a few years ago; something in this book is sure to delight.

The book is tagged as a Final Crisis crossover, but the cross occurs in one direction only. Final Crisis references Legion of Three Worlds (turns on it, even), but Legion in no way references Final Crisis, and in fact largely contradicts some of the comics that follow in Final Crisis's stead. This should worry the reader not at all. Final Crisis and Legion do eventually match up a couple months down the road, and the offending scene in Legion is easily dismissable. Chalk it up to all the time paradoxes that go on in Legion of Three Worlds; the incongruity is a blunder, but it doesn't overshadow what's otherwise a well-written, well-drawn story that celebrates the DC Comics history it's built on.

[Includes full, variant, and unused covers]
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6 comments:

  1. No comment on that final scene? I suppose that is too much of a spoiler....

    I need to re-read this book and see how many more references I can catch - I'm mostly familiar with the 3rd version of the Legion, having the entire trade collection, although I've read quite a few of the trades of the older versions (including Great Darkness Saga, Eye for an Eye, and a few others)

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  2. Thought about saying something about the last scene, but personally I just didn't take it as hard as I think others did. I absolutely see how it could be read as a dig at fans (all of Superboy-Prime is a dig at fans), but ... it's Geoff Johns. There's no doubt in my mind Johns appreciates the fans and is a fan himself, and I sincerely doubt he thought Legion of Three Worlds was "stupid." I take that more as Johns writing Superboy-Prime's character than, say, Dwayne McDuffie obviously presenting his own opinion in Justice League: Second Coming. So I thought about addressing that Superboy-Prime scene, but ultimately didn't have enough to say to warrant a paragraph. Thanks for bringing it up, though.

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  3. Late to the party again, although I'd like to point out that this just came out in softcover. :-)

    What was the contradiction with Final Crisis you're referring to? The "offending scene", as it were? I re-read Final Crisis around Lo3W, and while it was obvious that Lo3W had nothing to do with FC, and could totally be read on its own, I don't remember Lo3W showing Superman going back home, which is what we see in Final Crisis.

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  4. Legion of Three Worlds, if I didn't misunderstand, ends with Superman returning home with Superboy and Kid Flash; but Final Crisis has Brainiac sending Superman home with the Miracle Machine. A small contradiction, but a contradiction nonetheless.

    The even worse contradiction is how, even as Legion of Three Worlds shows the resurrected Superboy reuniting with Wonder Girl and a pre-Red Robin Tim Drake, the Teen Titans, Red Robin, and New Krypton series acted as though Superboy was still dead for long after that should have been worked out. The very Blackest Night crossover Teen Titans trade (Child's Play, I believe) has Wonder Girl speaking with Kid Eternity about a dead loved one, even though Superboy appears in Blackest Night.

    So there's a way in which Legion of Three Worlds doesn't mesh with the DC Universe, but it's worked out by the end of Blackest Night.

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  5. I think the scene with Superboy and Kid Flash coming back to the present is set after Final Crisis. I assumed Superman went back in time first, repaired the spacetime continuum and then went back to the 31st Century to fetch the kids.

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  6. Sure, there's ways to make it work. But definitely the Red Robin/Teen Titans/Superboy confusion is a continuity mess-up -- Tim Drake, in his Robin costume, is shown seeing Superboy at Titans Tower, but then as Red Robin he talks about mourning Connor's death. Y'know, maybe you could say Tim went back to his Robin costume so as not to overwhelm Superboy, etc., etc., but basically it was just a mess-up, fixed after Blackest Night.

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