Paul Levitz's first Legion of Super-Heroes foray into the New 52 offered a smidgen more action than characterization than I might have preferred, suggesting perhaps a "dumbing down" of the Legion for the DC relaunch. With Legion of Super-Heroes Vol. 2: The Dominators, however, Levitz rights the ship quite well. The team is pulling in a bunch of different directions at once, in inimitable Paul Levitz style, and he balances them well, peppering the engaging "A" plot with two or three different smaller "B" plots and character vignettes. All the more a pity that Legion has been cancelled, because when Levitz is on it, he's on it, and he's on it in The Dominators.
[Review contains spoilers]
Dominators begins with the specter of a reborn Fatal Five, but as befits a good Legion tale, that subplot dips just below the horizon when Brainiac 5 and Dream Girl are kidnapped by the alien Dominators. What follows is a multi-part jailbreak/rescue storyline that we've undoubtedly seen in a Legion title before, but Levitz hits all the right notes -- the cellmate banter between Brainiac and Dream Girl, the plucky rescue effort by a team of otherwise second-string Legionnaries, and a grand "all seems lost" finale. It's an oft-told tale, but with Levitz and these characters, it works.
Levitz adds unusually good complication to the "Dominators" arc when the ruling Earthgov forbids the Legion from breaching the supposed treaty with the Dominators, and leader Mon-El complies. Mon-El has travelled a long road in Levitz's recent stories, imprisoned again in the Phantom Zone and estranged from long-time love Shadow Lass, and even becoming for a time a Green Lantern. Here, Levitz demonstrates how heavy the crown weighs on the Legion's new leader, especially in some good scenes with Mon-El and former leader Cosmic Boy debating whether or not the Legion should follow Earthgov's rules. This, too, is one of Levitz's smaller subplots, until it takes off at the end when Mon-El and Cos devise an inspired way to convince Earthgov of the Dominators' treachery.
This eight-issue trade (larger by one or two than most DC Comics paperbacks) includes the single-issue prologue, the four-part "Dominators" story, and then a two-part tale before the book's Zero Month issue. The two-part story features new Legionnaire Chemical Kid, a nice counterpoint to the last trade's two-issue focus on new Legionnaire Dragonwing. Chemical Kid is unsure of himself and new to being a Legionnaire, and so serves to offer a new reader's perspective to the story. I was surprised that Levitz showed perhaps the most experienced Legionnaire, Cosmic Boy, being defeated so easily by two-bit criminals in this story, but it gave Chemical Kid and his mentor Element Lad a chance to shine in the issues.
Legion has never, however, been the most approachable book, one that rewards study rather than casual readership, and Dominators is no exception. Levitz starts out with a scene with Invisible Kid that hearkens back to Legion events in the 1980s -- pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths, even. Levitz never quite explains who the Fatal Five are, why they're a danger, or where their current members are, so the reader must trust that they're a threat rather than fully understanding it.
Dominators also picks up a number of character bits from the final pre-Flashpoint Legion book, When Evil Calls, and the earlier volumes -- this wasn't all that long ago, but that story was so (good and) complicated that I felt even though I read it, I could have done with a refresher. This doesn't put me off as a reader -- again, I'm not sure you can love the Legion without loving its continuity -- rather I think it's probably good that Levitz is making the reader "work for it" more than he did in Hostile World (though whether this contributed to Legion's cancellation is a possibility).
The only discordant note in the book is the Zero Month issue. It's good that Levitz ties this to his Legion: Secret Origin (at least we don't have two Legion origins running around) and in all his characterization of the Legionnaires here is better (more mature) than in Secret Origin. But the story moves at breakneck speed, and it was hard to know what was history and what Levitz was newly establishing (Coluans only have one child a century? There's a baby Coluan girl somewhere -- probably not a baby any more -- that Brainiac has to deal with somehow?). Apparently Brainiac 5 does something bad (in a story called "Brainiac's Original Sin") involving his ancestor Brainiac, though what he did and why are never made clear. There's also a cut scene that seems to involve Brainiac turning an errant thief into Tharok, leader of the Fatal Five, but this, too, is so quick -- Who is this thief? How did he get on Colu? -- as to be more confusing than engaging.
If, as it seems, the Zero Month issue is supposed to tie into the Fatal Five story (and indeed the next and final Legion trade is called The Fatal Five), possibly that issue would have been better served leading off the third volume instead, where it would be prologue instead of uncertain ending.
But overall, Legion of Super-Heroes: The Dominators is more proof that Paul Levitz really "gets" the Legion, from founding members Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad kidnapping Cosmic Boy for a night out, Cos's problems with Mon-El as leader, Brainiac and Dream Girl and the rest. Reading such a good Legion book -- Levitz back up to his recent standards -- makes it all the more disappointing this era is about to come to an end.
[Includes art by former Legion artist Steve Lightle, Francis Portella, Scott Kolins. Original covers; Kolins Zero Month sketchbook.]
Later this week, we'll talk Man of Steel, and then join us Thursday for a sure-to-be-controversial review ...