Review: Legion of Super-Heroes: Hostile World Vol. 1 trade paperback (DC Comics)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Paul Levitz's final pre-DC New 52 Legion volume, When Evil Calls, was an expansive, weighty collection with the Legion in a climactic battle with their opposite number, the Legion of Super-Villains. Following this, Levitz's first New 52 entry, Legion of Super-Heroes: Hostile World, is unfortunately lacking.

Levitz's good cast is here and he embarks them on an interesting adventure, but he packs much less into the story here than he had in the previous volumes. The art gets a big boost with new series artist Francis Portela, but the book is more art than story, more flash than substance. This is perhaps what the DC New 52 needs -- a bright and brash new Legion story with less emphasis on the characters' complicated back-stories; unfortunately, it leaves Hostile World seeming lesser than what came before.

[Review contains spoilers]

The first four issues of Hostile World have Legionnaries including Phantom Girl, Ultra Boy, Mon-El, and some new Legion Academy recruits uncovering scheming between the conquering Dominators and the super-powerful Daxamites. This is engaging -- Levitz teams two of Legion's most fearsome alien enemies in a way not seen before, creating a convincingly intimidating threat. Mon-El's face-off against the Dominators at the end is a suspenseful close to the arc, and also a nice moment for the new Legion leader, who's been unfortunately dour for the last few Legion books.

The story, however, takes the four issues to tell, and a good part of the second and third issue are taken up with appealing, but perhaps too widescreen, panels of the Legion fighting the Daxamite Renegade. Levitz's Legion work tends to include often-repetitive fight scenes, but usually these are couched around so many character moments that they're a relief, not a distraction. This first arc might've been two or three issues, not four, and it felt as though the DC New 52 had a negative effect on Levitz's pacing -- in an effort to be more visually striking, this book lacks what makes Legion truly attractive.

There are interesting subplots here, not in the least being the former Legion Academy members having joined the Legion itself along with the immortal Professor Harmonia Li (now codenamed just "Harmonia"), and Brainiac 5's study of the sorcerer Glorith. Some amount of this is muddled, however, by a handful of Legionnaires having "died" (really, shunted to the New 52 Legion Lost title) sometime between When Evil Calls and this book.

Hostile takes place right after the Legion's battle with the Super-Villains in Evil, but somehow also with enough time that the lost Legionnaries have disappeared off-panel. The characters speak in very vague terms about the "incident" that occurred -- enough so that one suspects perhaps Levitz didn't have all the facts as to what was going on elsewhere when writing the beginning of this book. The reader is supposed to sympathize with Cosmic Boy and others at the loss of their friends, but the narrative jump is so off-putting as to cause confusion much sooner than sadness. (In addition, the characters speak incessantly about the "Flashpoint barrier" that now seems to bar them from the twenty-first century -- what this barrier is, however, and what it has to do with the Flashpoint series is never explained, likely because of last-minute alterations to Flashpoint for which Legion no longer syncs up.)

The most promising of Levitz's subplots, however, is the aforementioned focus on Glorith. Levitz plays fast and loose with Legion history here, but over various incarnations of the Legion, the Glorith character has been a foil of the Time Trapper, if not the Time Trapper herself. Levitz hasn't yet revealed whether this is a new Glorith or an amnestic previous version, but the specter of the Time Trapper hangs subtly over Levitz's current story, and that's a good thing. The Time Trapper's presence tends to mean some crossover with the rest of the DC Universe -- Levitz has something strong the slow build of the "Glorith mystery" and what future adventures it might portend for the Legion.

Hostile World's best issue is the fifth, written by Levitz and penciled by comics star Walt Simonson. It's a day in the life issue that offers nods to all the current Legionnaires, each shown in one hour (though "day" quickly gives way to "night"). Apart from the fun of seeing Simonson's inimitable pages, Levitz's one-off underlines what a great cast he has to work with, this decompressed volume notwithstanding. The heroes are as far flung as Mysa and Blok and as inscrutable as Element Lad and Duplicate Damsel, as they are familiar like Cosmic Boy, Ultra Boy, and Brainiac 5. It's a great group, slightly pared down -- perhaps the most approachable the Legion has been in decades -- if only the story better showcased their potential.

The last two issues mostly follow new Legionnaire Dragonwing as she tries to solve a family mystery in thirty-first century China. This has a little appeal in Levitz's depiction of the China of the future, though his presentation is mostly tired (and not just a little stereotypical) "gangs and dynasties" stuff. I like the new blood that the Academy recruits inject into the Legion, though in Hostile Chemical Kid comes off less subversive than he was in When Evil Calls, and neither Glorith nor Dragonwing steal the show. The two-parter, which ties too easily into a subplot with Sun Boy, seemed mostly meant to bide time until the Dominators could appear again; in short, the end of this book does not distinguish it any more than the beginning.

If there are series one reads for their story, series one reads for their art, and series one reads for their characters, Legion of Super-Heroes: Hostile World falls into the final category. This is not poor work by Paul Levitz by far -- rather, when storylines like those involving the Dominators and Glorith come to fruition, Levitz may prove once again to have impressive vision and subtlety. Taken on its own however, Hostile World feels too quick, without the bang for the buck that Levitz's previous Legion volumes have delivered.

[Includes Legion sketches by Jim Lee and Portela, penciled paged by Portela.]

Next week, your guest-hosts Zach King and Doug Glassman will be back with some great reviews, plus my "Reading the DC New 52: Month Two" column. See you then!
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8 comments:

  1. I'm still wishing this new Legion ends up fixing that "Flashpoint" barrier! :P

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  2. I'm not that familiar with Legion of Super-Heroes. While reading this volume I just didn't understand what was going on most of the time :(
    But some story sequences felt a bit strange. For example Mon-el's battle with Renegade. It dissapears for halve the story in issue 3. Or Sun boy suddenly capturing those two responsible for "industrial accident". I think the final two issues felt kinda sudden to me.
    Overall, it was enjoyable and I like Portela's arc.
    But CE, would you recommend reading Levitz's final three trades of the pre-new 52 first before reading this one?

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  3. I would absolutely recommend reading Levitz's final three pre-New 52 Legion trades before reading this one, both because this one will make more sense and also because they're really good. :-)

    It's not just you on some of the strange pacing in this volume -- the "industrial accident" bit especially, tying Sun Boy's story into Dragonwing's story, caught me off-guard, too. Of Levitz's four modern Legion trades (this plus the pre-52 three), this is by far the weakest. I do hear good things out of the Comic Box Commentary blog, however, that Legion picks up with the next issues.

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  4. It's good to hear I'm not the only one having trouble with the pacing!
    But thanks CE, I'll also order the three trades.

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  5. Just a heads up, Danny: the first two collections of Levitz's pre-Flashpoint run (The Choice and Consequences) are only avaliable in hardcover.

    DC did solicit a paperback version of The Choice last year, but they cancelled it and said they were going to resolicit it, which has yet to happen.

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  6. Thanks shagamu! It is strange that the final trade isn't published in hardcover, which I also prefer. But I still ordered it :)

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  7. Its good to hear this is a direct continuation of Levitz's previous run since I loved it and will pick this up, but how much of the new Legion Lost series related to this series? Before both LoSH and Adventure Comics complemented each other and were both being written by Levitz, but I wonder how much Legion Lost has to do with with this new series since its being written by Nicieza.

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  8. I actually just now finished reading the first DC New 52 volume of Legion Lost. It has only just a little to do with Hostile Worlds. The people in Hostile Worlds mourn the people in Legion Lost because they think they're dead, but Levitz kind of tip-toes around it because it doesn't seem he really knows what the Legion Lost folks are going to do. Legion Lost also thinks about how they left the future but -- now that you mention it -- I think they mentioned nearly no other Legionnaires by name.

    So probably you don't need to pick up Legion Lost if you don't want to -- though, with Legion Lost about to be cancelled, I'd imagine the finale issues have something to do with the two teams getting back together, unless they leave the Lost team in the past post-cancellation.

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