Review: Legion Lost Vol. 1: Run from Tomorrow trade paperback (DC Comics)

Monday, November 12, 2012

DC Comics goes three-for-three with their New 52 "Young Justice" line; Scott Lobdell's Superboy and Teen Titans both impressed, and now Fabian Nicieza has delivered with Legion Lost: Run from Tomorrow.

This is most assuredly the Legion of Super-Heroes book for those who don't like the Legion of Super-Heroes, surprisingly light on real Legion fare. It begs the question what readership Legion Lost is for; hardly is there a significant audience out there looking for a small-team Legion book spotlighting Legionnaires Wildfire or Dawnstar or Gates, as evinced by this book's cancellation after its next volume. That said, however, if the reader is a Legion fan and does particularly like Wildfire, Dawnstar, Gates, Tellus, Timber Wolf and the rest, Nicieza does a nice job even if it's hard to tell what audience this book is aiming for.

[Review contains spoilers]

At the outset of DC's original New 52 titles, there seemed to be a willingness to throw all the good ideas out there and see what stuck. Thus readers saw such experimental titles as Men of War, later relaunched as GI Combat and later cancelled. Another of these would appear to be Legion Lost. It's hard to believe sales figures on Paul Levitz's pre-Flashpoint Legion and Adventure Comics were sufficient to warrant a third spin-off, though it was the best-written the Legion had been in a while. Prior to Levitz, the Legion title's most recent glory days probably was Legion Lost -- the 2000 twelve-issue miniseries by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, that is.

The New 52 Legion Lost, therefore, would seem to be trying to establish itself mainly on name recognition -- if "Legion Lost" worked once before, maybe "Legion Lost" would work again. It's no coincidence, assuredly, that Abnett and Lanning are thanked on Run from Tomorrow's credits page.

Lost -- then and now -- took the Star Trek: Voyager approach to the Legion franchise, stranding a team of Legionnaires far away from the Legion's rules and regulations and examining how they survive when Legion ethics aren't reinforced all around them (another New 52 moniker might have been "Legion of Super-Heroes Dark"). More effectively, Abnett and Lanning's stranded their Legion in an alternate galaxy, injured and despondent, with much emotional turmoil and betrayal; Nicieza's Legion are stuck in the past, but generally know where they are and who some of the historical figures of the time are, and Nicieza has less emotional heft with fewer Legionnaires missing lost spouses or family.

But Nicieza does give a loud shout-out to the first Legion Lost in that each of his chapters are narrated by a different Legionnaire, as was the case with the Abnett and Lanning series. It's here that Nicieza shines, and if the reader is a Legion fan, the book's attraction begins to show. As the Legionnaires battle the effects of a plague that mutates humans with alien DNA, Nicieza uses these conflicts to spotlight each Legionnaire with situations that delve into each Legionnaire's neuroses. Wildfire, ever the Tin Man wishing for a heart, faces a "Hypersapian" trying to escape his own humanity. Dawnstar, always so collected, aches to wildly use her strength as Timber Wolf does. Tellus invades their enemy's mind despite his beliefs against doing so, and Tyroc tries to promote pacifism despite the team's increasingly violent tendencies.

None of these Legionnaires are as popular as Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy, or Brainiac 5, but each has a cult following in their own right. Nicieza gives life especially to Tyroc, one of DC Comics's first African American characters and one largely unused since his 1970s debut, making him the team leader. This is appealing, as Nicieza's use of Gates (a survivor of two or three of DC's rebooted continuities), but they're details that would be lost on those new to the Legion, the very audience Legion Lost would seem to want to attract.

Legion Lost separates itself from Legion to a rather astounding extent. Chameleon Girl never even mentions her husband Colossal Boy (whereas, in Levitz's New 52 Legion: Hostile World, Colossal Boy has quit the Legion over Chameleon Girl's disappearance). The reader might wonder if Nicieza sidelines Chameleon Girl early in the book precisely because of her greater connection to the larger Legion, Even in flashbacks or when the Legion talks about their mission, no other Legionnaires make a cameo. It requires absolutely zero knowledge of the Legion to get in to this book, but neither does Legion Lost encourage the reader to learn more while they're there.

The book's conclusion guest-stars Stormwatch's Martian Manhunter. The Manhunter has some connection with the Legion in other continuities, but it's unexpected and thrilling to see his New 52 iteration here, shortly before the lost Legion will also encounter the Teen Titans. This seems a strong way to go, letting Legion Lost be the Legion/DC Universe team-up book that Legion of Super-Heroes is not. Tom DeFalco takes over from Nicieza with this volume's final issue, and while his tale of the Legion debating how much to interfere in the past is functional, it doesn't necessarily distinguish the title. In teaming up with the Teen Titans in the Culling collection, Legion Lost becomes something more than "just another Legion book"; however, it may be hard for some readers to distinguish what the difference is between Legion Lost and Teen Titans at all.

These questions are purely academic because indeed, this title has been cancelled after issue 16; Legion Lost: Run from Tomorrow collects issues #1-7 and the next will likely collect #8-16. Legion fans can simply hope that in the end, these characters are integrated back into Paul Levitz's Legion of Super-Heroes, having been given a little time to shine, and that Levitz upholds some of the growth the characters have seen in this book, especially on Tyroc's part.

[Includes original covers, a single Pete Woods sketchbook page]

Up next ... Birds of Prey is popular around these parts, and coming up, we'll look at Duane Swierczynski's New 52 Birds of Prey: Trouble in Mind. See you then!
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6 comments:

  1. Despite my love for the Legion, I wasn't very big on this book. I think Nicieza was saddled with a mostly uninteresting mix of characters, and the whole death fake-out at the beginning made the book unnecessarily depressing.

    As for the second and last volume, I think it will skip issues #8-9, since they will be collected in the Culling: Rise of the Ravagers TPB, and they wouldn't read very well without the rest of the crossover.

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  2. Haven't read this yet, will need to before The Culling. Big fan of the original Legion Lost!

    Having just finished "Marvel - the Untold Story", I'm so aware how much editorial mgmt interferes with the writer's process. For the New 52, seems like many series were launched, but some, like Legion Lost, didn't support the creative vision enough to sustain publication.

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  3. @shagmu, the death fake-out was very strange. I wonder, again, if it was to trim down the cast so Nicieza could feature the remaining ones in his run (if he knew his run would be only six issues), or if it was because Gates and Yera each have more connection to the larger Legion than the rest ... I don't know ...

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  4. I'm a big Fabian Nicieza fan.
    This is one of those book I will definitively have to get a look at, at some point.

    Also, is it only me, or is that LOST font really looking like JJ Abrams' LOST logo??

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  5. @CE, I think the death fake-out had the same purpose as Static's arm getting sliced off and Batwing getting stabbed through the chest with a machete at the end of their respective first issues: showing how "edgy" the New 52 could be and giving us a sense that anything could happen to the characters, even if it would be undone in the very next issue.

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  6. I guess "edgy," in its negative connotation, depends on the use. The Static and Lost items disappointed me because they were ultimately undone, so therefore they just seemed to be fake-outs for surprise's sake. Batwing, on the other hand, was a shocking moment in an overall great book, so I can't fault that one so much. Maybe the violence is edgy, but other times we'd just call these "cliffhangers," IMHO.

    Eyz, I've followed Nicieza's work only sporadically -- what appeals to you most about his writing?

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